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February 2009

President Obama's Climate Plan and Your Pocketbook

Kalbird13 A national system to discourage global warming pollution by imposing extra costs on companies that burn coal and oil could generate billions of dollars a year for the federal government. These costs -- kind of like fees for polluting -- would come from the auctioning of pollution credits. But where should all those billions of dollars go? Toward building wind turbines, solar panels and government programs to encourage energy efficiency?  Or should the cash go right into the pockets of consumers?

It’s an important question for people living in the Chesapeake Bay region, because our shorelines make us especially vulnerable to the rising sea levels caused by global warming. And the debate is hot right now because the Obama Administration and Congress are promising action on creating a “cap and trade” or pollution credit system to fight climate change.

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You'll Never Swallow This Photo. See It to Believe It.


Send in your wildlife photos!  If they're good (like the eye-popping, throat-stretching examples below), Bay Daily will publish them. The editorial board here  (me) voted unanimously (1-0) to make this appeal to the public after being inspired by loyal Bay Daily reader Sean McCandless of Cecil County, Maryland.

Sean nominated great blue herons to join the Bay Daily Wildlife Comeback Hall of Fame, and he sent in his photos to illustrate his case. Our international reporting team created this contest back on February 10 after another reader suggested that our publication not just feature Chesapeake critters that are declining -- but also those that are heroically resurgent, despite all odds.  So far, bald eagles, osprey, striped bass, barred owls and black bears are in the Wildlife Comeback Hall of Fame, with nominations pending (when the board can get its act together to form a quorum) for peregrine falcons, wild turkeys and river otters. Today, the exciting news is that the board has voted and BLUE HERONS ARE NOW IN THE HALL OF FAME!!  Congratulations, Sean!

Sean lives near Elkton and works to protect the environment as a municipal stormwater inspector. But in his off-hours he is president of the Cecil Bird Club and (as you can see) a world-class photographer. He recalls that, back in the 1980's when he was a teen-ager, it was a big deal to see a blue heron. Now he spots them nearly every day near his home, where there is a rookery. When spring comes, he'll often see them soaring over his house several times a day -- with sometimes five in the air at one time.  He took these pictures in January on the ice-covered North East River.

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Brutal Honesty About Bay 'Cleanup' Efforts

Kalbird1 Congress introduces thousands of bills every year, but not many focus specifically on the Chesapeake Bay. Recently, U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman of Virginia sponsored a bill that won't end the Bay's pollution problems on its own. But it contains a germ of a much larger idea that is critical for rescuing this national treasure. And that idea is accountability.

We need to hold the federal government’s Bay “cleanup” efforts up to penetrating and harsh scrutiny. Because folks, it ain’t working. That’s why the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and its allies sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, because the federal government was not doing its job and enforcing the Clean Water Act. Too much talking, too many nice-looking reports, but not enough real action on the ground to stop polluters.

Wittman Take a look at this bill. It’s called the Chesapeake Bay Accountability and Recovery Act of 2009 (HR 1053) It was recently introduced by Congressman Wittman, a Republican from Virginia’s first district, which stretches along the commonwealth’s western shore of the Bay. Wittman knows a thing or two about Bay pollution as a former director of the Virginia Health Department’s division that monitors contamination in shellfish.

His proposal would require the EPA to adopt “adaptive management” for the Chesapeake Bay, which is a fancy way of saying the EPA should change its approach when it finds things aren't working.  The bill would also mandate more transparency in budgeting, so that taxpayers can see exactly where every dollar of federal Bay restoration money is going. Both are commonsense, good government.

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President Obama Wrestles With Underwater Kudzu

Kalbird5 So now it may be President Barack Obama who decides whether to allow Asian oysters in the Chesapeake Bay.

The man has a lot on his plate. Banks collapsing. General Motors in the breakdown lane. Getting up super-early to pack school lunches for Malia and Sasha (okay, Bay Daily has not 100 percent confirmed that the President has Constitutional authority in this arena.)

However, Bay Daily has confirmed that the White House might soon be called to make a decision about the future of oysters in the nation’s largest estuary.

It sounds like a minor issue, but inside there’s a large and important pearl. And it’s a subject being debated today by a Virginia fisheries board.

Oysterboat Native Chesapeake oysters--once the foundation of the region’s economy--have fallen to an estimated 4 percent of their historic bounty because of overfishing and disease. But recently there has been a small glimmer of hope. Oyster farmers have found some success in cultivating a fast-growing variety of native oysters that appear to tolerate the diseases.

But any recovery of the Chesapeake oysters could be derailed by a proposal by the Virginia seafood industry to introduce Asian oysters. Scientists believe this exotic species could bring yet more diseases and outcompete the remaining native oysters.

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Budget Cuts Encouraged Fishing 'Pirates'...And More

Kalbird8 Hope you had a great weekend. There’s so much buzzing in the environmental news hive right now that I’m just going to buckle on my beekeeper helmet and get right down to business. If you don’t have time to keep up with all these reports, don’t worry -- Bay Daily’s got your back.

* Chesapeake Bay area lawmakers are busy defending their votes in favor or against President Obama’s stimulus package, which included billions of dollars for renewable energy. Among the other good things in the package is $871 million for sewage treatment plant improvements and other projects to reduce pollution in the Bay region through the Clean Water State Revolving fund, including $437 million for New York, $157 million for Pennsylvania, $96 million for Maryland, $19 million for DC, $19 million for Delaware, $62 million for West Virginia, and $81 million for Virginia.

* The Baltimore Sun’s Candus Thomson reports that budget cuts at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources were in part responsible for the lax law enforcement that allowed fish poachers to take an estimated 600,000 pounds of striped bass worth millions of dollars. Now, more cuts threaten to further weaken enforcement by getting rid of helicopters that are valuable to deter illegal fishing. BAAAD idea. The Bay needs more law enforcement, not less.

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Public Television Program on Sprawl to Air Tomorrow

If you're interested in the environmental impact of suburban sprawl, here's a program that's worth watching.  Maryland Public Television will air “SPRAWL: a Tipping Point” on Saturday, Feb. 21 at 6:30 p.m. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and allied organizations have introduced legislation to slow sprawl and reduce the harm it causes to our world and health.

New Program Sparks Debate: What Are "Green" Jobs?

Kalbird11 Promoting “green jobs” is becoming increasingly hot. It’s a laudable goal. But what exactly is a “green” job, anyway… and who gets to define it?  And what is the opposite of a green job? A gray job? Presumably, that's employment in a high-pollution industry. Should those jobs also be encouraged during a recession?

In Virginia, Gov. Tim Kaine has launched a praise-worthy program called Renew Virginia that calls for tax breaks and grants to promote “green jobs” in areas such as renewable energy and energy efficiency. President Barack Obama is pushing a similar idea nationally.

Kaine A recent article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch describes the general benefits of  Kaine’s idea, especially in the boosting of industries such as installing solar panels.

But the piece also raises the basic question: “What is a green job?...James Wetzel, a Virginia Commonwealth University economist, says: ‘The most honest answer is there is no definition. I think, politically speaking, it's whatever the person talking about green jobs wants it to be.’”

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New State Document Says Highway Will "Certainly" Hurt Treasured Creek

Kalbird4 Bulldozing forests and fields for suburban cul-de-sacs and highways is bad for water quality in the Chesapeake Bay and for our quality of life. But there’s one sprawl project in particular--the Cross County Connector in Charles County, Md.--that has become the poster child for destructive development in our region.

Hopefully, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) will do its job and stop this massive and foolish project. A new document recently released by the MDE suggests the state agency could stop the highway, because it is unnecessary and would be too harmful to local waters.

Mattawoman But first, a little background. The Cross County Connector is a four-lane highway proposed in Southern Maryland that would rip across one of the Bay region’s most fertile fish breeding grounds, the Mattawoman Creek. The roadway would "facilitate" (in the county's words) the construction of at least  1,113 homes (and perhaps many times that number) in a sensitive area that should remain forests and wetlands.

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The Great Vanishing of Life on the Bay's Bottom

Waterman Andrew Wright (To hear audio that goes with this story, click here

At the docks on Kent Island in the Chesapeake Bay, Andrew Wright looks over the idled work boats. For 35 years, Wright was a clammer. He worked a hydraulic escalator dredge -- a machine that uses a high-pressure hose and steel conveyor belt to dig up clams from the bottom.

But now both Wright and the old dredger tied up next to him are unemployed because of a sudden and mysterious disappearance of the Bay's clams.

"The clams just got worser and worser. Now it's just, it's gone," Wright said. "Now you can't catch two bushel a day. When I started, we could catch 40 bushel in about three hours... It got down worser and worser. And now it's gone."

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Bill Aims to Cut Addiction to Fossil Fuels

Solar Sometimes a sturdy piece of lumber like a 2 x 4 is needed to shore up a wobbly home. Our nation’s dependence on fossil fuels is a rickety foundation for all of our households. So some lawmakers are trying to build a more stable future by using something even bigger: a 25 x 25.

U.S. Reps. Todd Platts, a Republican from Pennsylvania, and Edward Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, recently introduced legislation that would require America’s large electric utilities to get 25 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources like solar, wind and hydropower by 2025.  The image above is of the solar panels on the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's headquarters in Annapolis, Md. 

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