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May 2009

Citizens Angry at EPA, MDE Failure to Stop Toxic Pollutants

TomkoIt was the swirls of greenish-yellow slime on top of the water near the Sparrows Point steel mill that disturbed boater Jerry Tomko (pictured at left).

What angered marina owner Art Cox was the fact that his small business spent a lot of money to comply with environmental laws, but the government allowed the big steel factory nearby to virtually ignore a pollution cleanup order.

These two were among several Baltimore area citizens who joined with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper in announcing today that they had filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) and the owners of Sparrows Point steel plant over water pollution pouring from the industrial site.

Sparrowspoint For more than a decade, EPA and MDE have failed to enforce a 1997 consent decree signed by the factory owners that should have stopped the flow of pollutants from the roughly 2,300 acre factory compound on the Patapsco River. Meanwhile, toxic materials from Sparrows Point have continued to seep into both the Patapsco and Bear Creek. High concentrations of chromium and arsenic (both known carcinogens), lead (which can cause neurological problems) and other contaminants have been found in the sediments nearby, according to testing results reviewed by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF).

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CSI Chesapeake Bay: Case of the Gender-Bending Bass


(To hear a radio show about this mystery, click here.)

Welcome to CSI-Chesapeake Bay.

Inside a morgue-like room furnished with a steel table spread with hypodermic needles and glass vials, Dr. Vicki Blazer, a fish pathologist, wields a scalpel on a smallmouth bass.

Blazer, a veteran investigator of underwater mayhem, is trying to solve a mystery.  She works for the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Fish Health Laboratory in Leetown, West Virginia, and she’s trying to discover the cause of a mass killing that wiped out an estimated 80 percent of the smallmouth bass in the Shenandoah River in 2004 and 2005.

She slices a cut along the bottom of a 16-inch long smallmouth bass, moves aside the pale pink intestines, then finds what she’s searching for.

“And then we have this organ right here, it’s actually a paired organ, kind of white – that’s the testes,” Blazer says, lifting the paper-clip sized organ onto a scale for weighing.

In hunting for things that might have killed the bass, Dr. Blazer stumbled across something odd: more than 80 percent of the males she examined were growing eggs inside their testes.

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A 'Merciful' End for the Chesapeake Bay Program?

Kalbird11 A lively discussion about the Chesapeake Bay’s future is unfolding on Daily Kos. The blogger Southriver makes the argument that President Barack Obama’s May 12 executive order on the Bay cleanup puts a “merciful” end to the “voluntary and collaborative” partnership of Chesapeake regional states and the federal government.

The blog calls the Chesapeake Bay Program, set up in 1983, “an artifact of the era of deregulation” that was “was entirely consistent with the ‘deregulatory’  thrust of the Reagan era.” Now that cooperative model is being “replaced with something very different from what we have had in the past,” a Presidential order “directing the federal government to take ownership of the effort to clean up the Bay,” Southriver writes.

“The Obama administration has chosen to deploy a political solution to the problem of pollution in the Chesapeake. His decision provided a merciful coup de grace to the states' coalition, which would otherwise have been forced into the embarrassment of a public admission that 'Chesapeake 2000' (interstate agreement) had been a total failure and that the cleanup goals were, once again, being pushed into the future,” the blogger wrote.

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Intense Debate Between Greens on Climate Change Bill

Smokestacks A U.S. House Committee voted yesterday evening in favor of a greenhouse gas control bill that would create a national cap-and-trade system to reduce global warming pollution.

The 33-25 vote by the House Energy and Commerce Committee was, in many ways, a step forward toward tacking a major environmental problem.  But the proposed legislation still has a lot of hurdles to overcome – and it highlighted a fascinating debate within the environmental community.

The sponsors of the bill, committee chair Rep. Henry Waxman of California and Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, allowed some compromises to win over opponents, including giving away about 85 percent of the pollution credits instead of auctioning them all off to power companies, utilities and other polluters, according to The Washington Post. 

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The Oyster Rap

You’ve heard rap songs about gangstas, cops, drinking, livin’ large… heck, even Karl Rove had a rap (sort of).   Well, inevitably, this had to happen, too.  The Chesapeake Bay oyster rap.   It will shuck you. Check it out on youtube.


The rapper is the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's own Jackie Harmon, an oyster restoration specialist and big time player in the music industry. If you want to read an article about Jackie’s work, click here.   

Stronger Fuel Efficiency Proposal a Victory for MD, PA and Bay

Kalbird12 President Barack Obama’s recent proposal to raise national fuel efficiency standards was a victory not only for California – which had been fighting to allow tougher standards – but also for Maryland and Pennsylvania, which adopted California’s rules in 2007 and 2006.

“In the next five years, we're seeking to raise fuel-economy standards to an industry average of 35.5 miles per gallon in 2016, an increase of more than eight miles per gallon per vehicle,” Obama said yesterday, flaked by automakers and governors in the White House rose garden. 

“As a result, we will save 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of the vehicles sold in the next five years," Obama said. "Just to give you a sense of magnitude, that's more oil than we imported last year from Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Libya, and Nigeria combined.”

The tighter standards would be a step forward for the Chesapeake Bay, because a 30 percent boost in average fuel efficiency would mean less air pollution raining down into the estuary. And it would mean less carbon dioxide contributing to global warming and sea-level rise.

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Highway Storm Water Control Effort Kicks Into High Gear

Kalbird1 A clean water highway.  It sounds like an oxymoron.  But a growing number of members of Congress  -- led by the Chesapeake Bay region delegation -- are pushing for new language in the federal highway bill that would create a greener road system and reduce pollution flowing into our nation’s waterways.


It’s a critically important subject.  After all, not only does highway construction often bring more air pollution and suburban sprawl.  But it also hurts our streams, rivers and bays, because rain flushing over blacktop picks up oil, gasoline, antifreeze, ground up particles of brake pads and  engine parts, along with mercury and other toxic metals.

In the Chesapeake Bay watershed alone, runoff from roads every year contributes at least 6 million pounds of nitrogen, 600,000 pounds of phosphorus, and 120,000 tons of sediment.  A California study found that cars and trucks contribute 10 percent of the mercury, cadmium and zinc pollution found in the environment.

So what could possibly be done to clean up a highway?  New design techniques have been developed that have proven successful in reducing the amount of contaminated runoff washing off into  waterways.  For example, engineers have devised systems of low grassy channels called swales filled with natural plant life and gravel mounds that slow the flow and filter the storm water.  In other areas, pipes have been combined with storm water control technology to reduce pollution. Also helpful is preserving as many trees and shrubs as possible around roads during construction.

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Bay Blues Festival This Weekend....What to Wear to the Beach?

Kalbird6 The Chesapeake Bay Blues festival is this weekend at Sandy Point State Park in Annapolis.

If you’re hitting the beach to listen to the Lonnie Brooks Band, Los Lonely Boys or the other acts, remember to slather up with sun screen.  But which sun screen to pick?  The new SPF 100 plus? Or perhaps the SPF 4500 super max sun block. (Which comes not in a tube but in a black RV that you crawl inside once the sun rises).

The New York Times had an amusing and valuable article this week, “Confused by SPF? Take a Number,” that explored the phenomenon of the every-escalating SPF claims on sun screen products.

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How Impressive Are Those New Bay Cleanup Goals?

Kalbird5 What to think about the new Chesapeake Bay cleanup goals? Check out the chart below.  It puts into graphic context how much progress the Bay area states pledged to make yesterday in reducing nitrogen pollution (a major source of low-oxygen "dead zones") over the next two years. The new two year "milestones" released at the Executive Council meeting in Mount Vernon, Va., were billed as a major step forward -- representing a "77 percent increase over the previous rate of progress," according to the U.S. EPA Chesapeake Bay Program.

But let's take a closer look at the numbers. The new goals would mean the estimated 259 million pounds of nitrogen pollution entering the Bay in 2008 would drop to a predicted 243 million pounds in 2011, instead of the 250 million pounds expected under the business-as-usual goals charted by the program. That would mean about 6 percent less nitrogen pollution is predicted to enter the Bay by 2011.  That's an improvement, granted -- but at that rate, the predicted levels of pollution won't reach the restoration end goals for a healthy Bay for at least another decade and a half, or more.

And a goal of 243 million pounds of nitrogen pollution by 2011 isn't all that much of a stretch, considering that the EPA and Bay area states promised in 2000 to have the amount down to 175 million pounds by 2010. 

On the chart below, you can see there isn't all that much of a gap between the black downward line (representing business as usual) and the green downward line (representing the accelerated rate). But there is a huge gap between both these lines and the red line, which represents where the Bay should be by 2010 (a healthy Bay).

Timothy Wheeler of The Baltimore Sun had a penetrating blog article on the cleanup numbers on his blog, which you can read here.


Presidential Order Calls for "Renewed Commitment" to Bay Cleanup

Kainepix President Barack Obama signed an executive order today directing the federal government to take a new leadership role in the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay. The action came after Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine (pictured at left) specifically asked for a presidential order to help the restoration of the nation's largest estuary.

“The Chesapeake Bay is a national treasure,” President Obama wrote in the document, which was released this afternoon during a meeting of Bay region elected officials in Mount Vernon, Virginia.  “Restoration of the health of the Chesapeake Bay will require a renewed commitment to controlling pollution from all sources… The federal government should lead this effort.”

The order was announced by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson (in photo above, at right) at a press conference with Kaine (above), Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and other top regional officials.  

President Obama's words are encouraging.  Under the executive order, a proposed new Federal Leadership Committee, led by EPA and made up of the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Transportation and other federal agencies, within 120 days must produce draft reports on what regulatory changes and new policies are needed to restore water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.

This could be a step in the right direction.  But really, it is not more committees and reports that the Bay  needs.  The Chesapeake needs strong actions, especially enforcement of the federal Clean Water Act.  And this is still lacking.

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