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July 2009

Federal Bill Would Speed Testing of Beaches for Pathogens

Kalbird1 Faster testing of swimming beaches for bacterial pollution could be on the way. That would be healthy news for beachgoers in the Chesapeake Bay region and nationally, who now must wait a day or longer  before knowing if the water they swam in had disease-causing pathogens. 

The U.S. House yesterday approved a bill called the Clean Coastal Environment and Public Health Act that would require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop a test by 2012 that would allow swimmers to be alerted to high bacteria levels within hours of sampling, according to a report in this morning’s Los Angeles Times.

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Vote: The Best Crab Cakes in the Chesapeake Region

Crabs What is your vote for best crab cake in the Chesapeake region?

The New York Times recently published a long feature on crab houses that waxed lovingly about the whack of the mallet and the joys of a splattery feast.

The Washington Post also came out today with its list of best crab houses in Washington DC. To read the Post’s list, click here.

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The Strange Magic of an Island Reborn

Poplar1 Poplar Island in the Chesapeake Bay is one of the most surreal places I’ve ever visited – a landscape of blue herons and backhoes, a wilderness built by man, a dump and hatchery.

The island is located only about a mile from Maryland’s Eastern Shore, south of Kent Island. But as I took a boat trip across the glassy blue straits out to Poplar Island early this morning, I realized that it’s an entirely different world, conceptually and historically.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Port of Baltimore have spent millions to rebuild a vanishing five-acre sliver of land into a 1,140 acre island with substantial manmade wetlands.

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Bay Cleanup Trust Fund Threatened With Cuts

Bayscene Yet another casualty of the economic downturn: an innovative program to reduce runoff pollution into the Chesapeake Bay.

Among the $280 million budget cuts recently proposed by Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley is $2 million from the new Chesapeake Bay 2010 Trust Fund, which pays for planting trees along waterways, rebuilding eroded streams, and other projects to filter out runoff pollution.

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Community Meeting Tomorrow on Steel Mill Pollution in Dundalk, MD

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and the Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper will hold a community meeting 7 p.m. tomorrow (Tuesday, July 28) in Edgemere, Md., to discuss pollution from the Sparrows Point steel mill and reasons for a possible lawsuit.


CBF and the Waterkeeper on May 29 filed notice of intent to sue the EPA, MDE and owners of the steel mill to force a cleanup of contaminants escaping from the factory site into Bear Creek and the Patapsco River.  The meeting with local residents will take place at the North Point Fire Hall at 7500 North Point Road, tomorrow from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m.




Wal-Mart 'Sustainability' Labelling: Corporate Virtue or Greenwash?

Kalbird11 Wal-Mart has been receiving high praise since it announced that it would be creating eco-labels for its products. But does the big box really deserve a green crown?

“This is one small step for Wal-Mart and one giant leap for Planet Earth,” crowed Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter in an opinion piece published by Bloomberg news service.

What do you think about this new sustainability product labeling initiative?  Is this corporate responsibility at its best? Or greenwashing at its worst?

Personally, I think it’s a wonderful idea to start labeling products with accurate gauges of how much carbon dioxide was produced during manufacturing, how much water was used, and whether recycled material or natural resources were consumed.

But it’s not clear to me that this is anything like what Wal-Mart is proposing.  And I don’t see how anyone can praise Wal-Mart yet – because the precise form of the labeling hasn’t been announced, and as always, the devil is in the details.

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The Greener Path: Rebuilding Roads With Water-Permeable Concrete

Kalbird12 Follow the green brick road.

Rebuilding streets with porous concrete so they absorb storm water instead of flushing pollutants into  nearby streams is an innovative strategy for dealing with one of the Chesapeake Bay’s biggest problems: urban and suburban runoff.

“Green roads” are a smart idea.  But doubly intelligent is the concept of using federal stimulus money to create jobs through road rebuilding while reducing the storm water pollution. And it’s happening right in our back yard – and not in some upscale suburb, but in a working class community, where investment is sorely needed.

This morning’s Washington Post describes how the District of Columbia suburb of Edmonston is receiving $1.1 million in federal stimulus funds to rebuild part of its main street with water-permeable concrete.  The “green road” project goes far beyond simply repaving – it also includes the planting of trees and gardens of pollution-filtering plant species in low areas beside the road.  Designers are planning bike paths to get people out of their cars.  Street lights powered by the wind will brighten the new roadway.

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Introducing Exotic Species to Fight Exotic Species Backfires

Swans It’s a clever idea to fight invasive species (like mute swans, pictured at left) by introducing other exotic species.  But perhaps too clever, according to a new report.

The Associated Press investigated the use of so-called “biological controls” across the country, and found troubling evidence that some imported insects brought in to fight invasive bugs are turning into pests that threaten native species.

Do you agree or disagree with the idea of using exotic species as a weapon against exotic species?

The argument in favor of these biological controls is that they can be less harmful than chemical pesticides.

But the Associated Press found that the federal government does little, if anything, to follow up on these introductions of biological control agents and find out if they are working as intended – or wreaking havoc on the ecosystem.

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Under the Gaze of a Young Traveller

Immature black crowned night heron I went kayaking on Black Walnut Creek south of Annapolis yesterday and felt the eerie sensation that I was being watched.

Intently scrutinizing me from a tree branch was this skinny fellow (see picture at left) with his knock knees and tweedy coat.

My first thought was: Looks like a curious youngster – a juvenile fishing bird eying a particularly fat and clumsy fish (me). 

But what kind of fishing bird?  His knife-like beak made me think heron.  But his coloring was wrong for a black-crowned night heron.

So I emailed this photo to my friend Dave Brinker, a wildlife ecologist and world-class bird expert at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. I asked if perhaps I had been stalked by a young black-crowned night heron, which tend to have brownish feathers.

“Even better,”  Brinker replied.  “It is an immature yellow-crowned night-heron. … They are doing well and we are seeing more and more urban colonies of them.”

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Loophole in Climate Change Law Would Exempt 43 New Coal Plants

Kalbird8 Here’s a loophole big enough to drive the climate through.

The largest boom of coal-fired power plants in decades is under construction now in the U.S., with 43 planned over the next five years, including one being built in southwestern Virginia.

But according to a new report by the SolveClimate blog, all of the projects that are already being built or have received at least initial permits would be exempt from greenhouse gas standards in global warming legislation being considered by the Senate (the American Clean Energy and Security Act).

These 43 new plants (including one in Wise County, Virginia) are expected to pump out more than 150 million tons of CO2 pollution every year, according to the report. The global warming bill, passed by the House and awaiting action by the Senate, has tough standards for future coal plants, requiring them to capture and store at least 50 percent of their CO2 emissions no later than 2025. 

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