ANNAPOLIS-The Chesapeake Bay Foundation on Tuesday urged legislators to increase environmental funding and develop innovative tax policies over the next four years to help Maryland meet its clean water requirements, warning that Maryland has only gone halfway toward reaching a pollution reduction goal it set in 2000.
The proposals were part of a four-point plan the foundation contends will enable the state to uphold its promise of reducing by 20 million pounds the amount of nitrogen pollution that flows into the bay each year by 2010.
“The bay has been crying out for help–beach closures, dead zones, and widespread reports of sick or dying fish,” said Kim Coble, executive director of CBF Maryland. “The leaders elected this fall have a choice: lead us toward better water quality, or accept failure.”
The state’s commitments stem from the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement, where Maryland teamed up with the federal government, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington, D.C. to curb bay pollution.
According to the foundation, current nitrogen reductions have fallen 10.25 million pounds per year short with only four years remaining.
While the foundation notes that Maryland has outpaced Pennsylvania and Virginia in achieving its goal, it says additional nitrogen-reducing measures are urgent.
“Those who are elected this fall will be accountable to reach the deadline and the goals of the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement,” said William C. Baker, president of the foundation. “It will be their choice as to whether this Chesapeake Bay program will be a model of success or failure.”
But the Ehrlich administration, which supported the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Act that has reduced nitrogen by more than a third of the 2010 goal, is reluctant to promise that Maryland will reach the 20 million pound goal if Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich is reelected.
“It’s a noble but very lofty goal,” said Henry P. Fawell, an Ehrlich spokesman. “It will be difficult but the governor remains intent on moving forward to meet those goals.”
Rick Abbruzzese, an O’Malley campaign spokesman, said O’Malley would propose an inter-state fund for all participants in the 2000 agreement.
“Certainly we need to do a better job than we’re currently doing, and whether we get to twenty million, it’s important that we adopt very high goals and work hard to meet them,” he said.
The foundation wants the state to establish a state fund to sustain long-term water quality improvements. It recommends raising money by increasing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge toll and fees for vehicle emissions inspections and landfill tipping.
The plan also presses legislators to reward farmers who use good environmental techniques on their farms transferable tax credits. Such credits, they say, have already been implemented successfully in Pennsylvania and Virginia, and will make farming more economically viable in the face of soaring production costs and increased pressure from urban sprawl.
The prescription, however, includes two steps that are not likely to incur large costs to the state.
For one, the foundation is asking the Maryland Department of Environment to require water quality improvements in the storm water runoff permits it issues. Storm water runoff accounts for about 11 percent of the nitrogen currently released into the bay, according to Coble.
The foundation’s plan would divide the state into five jurisdictions, each having the authority to approve or disapprove of large development projects within its region.
Controversial development projects like the one near the Eastern Shore’s Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge have been decided mainly by local governments. But CBF officials say major developments have consequences that extend beyond the immediate areas. In addition, they say local governments do not have the resources to investigate and make informed judgments.
The larger jurisdictions will create a situation where “state funds and local funds can be pooled to give them the resources to really do the job of assessing and making decisions,” Baker said.
Baker says Maryland can reach its goals by 2010 if measures such as those in the foundation’s report are implemented. “It’s a rather simple approach, but it will have enormous potential over the next four years,” he said.