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September 2013

Zap! Sales of Electric Cars Multiply

Tesla Model SMost people don’t think about the connection between driving and pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.  But in fact, nitrogen oxide air pollution that rises from car tailpipes falls into the estuary when it rains, spurring algal blooms and low-oxygen “dead zones.” Roughly a third of the nitrogen pollution in the Bay comes from air pollution.

Driving cleaner helps to make a cleaner Bay.  And in terms of direct air emissions, few cars are more Bay friendly than plug-in electric vehicles.

Sales of electric cars in the United States have more than doubled so far this year, compared to last, and tripled last year, compared to the year before, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.  The boom in sales of “green” rides is driven in part by cheaper, more powerful batteries, federal tax incentives, and tightening fuel efficiency standards for vehicle manufacturers.

But how practical are electric cars, really?

To find out, I headed out to the Montgomery Mall in Bethesda, Maryland and took a test drive in one of the hottest sellers: A Tesla. This California-based electric car company has 10,000 customers on a waiting list and is producing 500 zero-emissions, plug-in vehicles a month.  I checked out a sleek black Tesla Model S sedan with a sales manager.

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Offshore Fleets Are Accidentally Killing Protected Fish

ShadRiver herring and shad play an important role in the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean ecosystems. They are prey for birds, marine mammals, and other fish in the rivers where they spawn and during their long migrations to the sea.

Additionally, these species once supported commercial and recreational fisheries and even sustained the Continental Army during the American Revolution, leading to their nickname of America's "founding fish."

Unfortunately, populations of shad and river herring have declined to historic lows, threatening coastal environments, economies, and traditions dating back more than 200 years, according to CBF Fisheries Director, Bill Goldsborough. 

Because shad and herring are critical to the Bay and its rivers and streams, Chesapeake states are doing all they can to bring them back, prohibiting harvesting and investing in fish passageways and water quality improvements. Programs to spawn shad in hatcheries for restocking in the tributaries have been active for decades.

Still, it has not been enough, Goldsborough said.   ”Millions of shad and river herring continue to be killed by industrial fishing vessels targeting mackerel in federal waters of the Atlantic. They need protection through strong federal regulation,” Goldsborough said.

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Newspaper Applauds Judge’s Bay Ruling

DSC_0315Bay Daily colleague Tom Pelton reported last week on an important court ruling affirming the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, the federal-state plan to restore the Bay by 2025.

“In a major victory for Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts, a federal judge has ruled against a legal challenge of EPA pollution limits for the Bay by the agriculture industry and developers,” Pelton wrote and quoted U.S. District Court Judge Sylvia Rambo’s decision:

“The ecological and economic importance of the Chesapeake Bay is well-documented. As the largest estuary in the United States, the Chesapeake Bay is essential for the well-being of many living things.... In short, the court concludes that the framework established by the Bay Partnership in developing the (pollution limits) is consistent with” the law.

This week, the (Fredericksburg, Va.) Free Lance-Star’s editorial page elaborated on the historic significance of the decision, not only for crabs, fish, and oysters but for the people who live in the Bay region:

“A long-awaited federal court decision rejecting an effort to block implementation of pollution limits for the Chesapeake Bay is a huge and welcome step forward. The ruling was made Friday, Sept. 13--a lucky day for the ailing bay, which must regain its health or see its ability to provide billions of dollars to the region in commercial and recreational value severely compromised.”

To read the full editorial, click here.

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Caution on Fracking in Virginia

Drillingrigtall.jpgHydraulic fracturing –- typically called fracking -– to mine for natural gas remains controversial across the country and in the Chesapeake Bay region.

Fracking involves drilling a mile or more into the earth, then drilling horizontally into shale, pumping a mix of sand, water, and chemicals under high pressure to crack the rock and force natural gas trapped there to the surface.

Areas around the country where fracking has been done extensively report a host of unsettling problems and concerns -- contamination of drinking water wells, pollution of surface waters, mishandling of drilling wastewater, runoff pollution, air pollution, forest fragmentation, unsustainable truck traffic, and the industrialization of once quiet, rural areas.

As a result, the U.S. EPA, states, and localities around the nation are taking a harder look at fracking and how better to ensure that local interests and the environment are protected as mining companies seek to exploit this new and potentially large sources of natural gas.

In Virginia, a portion of the George Washington National Forest sits atop a shale formation that GWNF.USFS potentially could contain pockets of natural gas reachable by fracking. The U.S. Forest Service, which manages the forest, is currently considering whether to allow fracking within the forest, a request of gas companies and not a few politicians. To date, the Forest Service has prohibited the practice, although traditional vertical gas drilling has been permitted.

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Hearings Planned on Pollution Control Fees

Runoff pipe CHESAPEAKE BAY PROGRAMAnne Arundel County Executive Laura Neuman this spring vetoed an important water pollution control fee meant to reduce urban runoff into the Chesapeake Bay.  Her veto was later wisely overridden by the county council, which recognized how important the Bay’s health is to a county whose geography, culture, and history are defined by the Chesapeake.

Now, the county executive is holding a series of public meetings -- the next, on September 26 -- about the runoff pollution control fees, which the Maryland General Assembly in 2012 required of the state’s 10 largest jurisdictions. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is urging its members and friends who live in the county to attend one of the meetings.

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Bay Island Residents Protest: "The Community Just Can't Handle This Density of Development!"

Four seasons protestersAlmost 500 people packed a public hearing last night to voice their opinions about a proposed 1,079-home waterfront development on Kent Island that would pave fields and forests and add pollution to the Chesapeake Bay.
About three quarters of the 50 speakers at Kent Island High School said they oppose the Four Seasons project on 425 acres of farmland beside the Chester River, north of Route 50 in Stevensville, Maryland.
Local residents said they worry about runoff pollution, flooding from sea level rise, traffic jams on an already congested island road system, inadequate fire and ambulance service, and a perception that local government is more focused on quick money from construction than the long-term quality of life for Kent Island voters.

Four Seasons meeting full house“We’ve made our opinions known on many occasions, and yet we don’t seem to be getting answers,” complained Mark Nitkoski of Stevensville.  “We recognize clearly the need to save the Bay. We
recognize clearly the need for our wildlife to have a home. And we don’t want to see our way of life ruined.”
On the other side of the argument over the massive development project, the New Jersey-based Hovnanian Enterprises development company, the Queen Anne’s County Chamber of Commerce, and their supporters argued the county should move ahead with the long-debated project because it will mean money for local businesses and construction jobs.

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River Cruise Focuses, Stimulates Virginia Local Officials

DSC_0004“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin,” wrote William Shakespeare.

And one up-close touch of the Chesapeake Bay late last week led some of the folks directly involved in local Bay cleanup decisions to discover they do indeed have much in common.

The occasion was a Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF)-sponsored trip on the Warwick River in Newport News, Va. Aboard CBF’s Bea Hayman Clark education boat were some 25 local government officials from the nearby localities of Chesapeake, Isle of Wight County, Hampton, James City County, Newport News, Norfolk, Poquoson, Smithfield, and Williamsburg. They included city and county planners, agency directors, elected officials, city managers, water utility experts, and interested citizen volunteers.

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Rally Today Against Waterfront Sprawl

SprawlCHESAPEAKEBAYPROGRAMA reminder to all who love the Bay:  Please show up at 7 p.m. today (Tuesday, Sept. 17) for a rally against sprawl that pollutes the Chesapeake.  Location: Kent Island High School, ADDRESS CORRECTION: 900 Love Point Road in Stevensville, Maryland.  Bring signs and raise your voice against the ill-conceived Four Seasons  project during the meeting of the Queen Anne’s County Commission.

Say “No!” to waterfront overdevelopment!  Say “Yes” to a healthy Chesapeake and smart planning!

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Judge Strikes Down Industry Challenge to Bay Pollution Limits

SunsetiStockIn a major victory for Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts, a federal judge has ruled against a legal challenge of EPA pollution limits for the Bay by the agriculture industry and developers.

“The ecological and economic importance of the Chesapeake Bay is well-documented," Judge Sylvia Rambo wrote in her decision in support of the federal pollution limits, which was released on Friday.  "As the largest estuary in the United States, the Chesapeake Bay is essential for the well-being of many living things.... In short, the court concludes that the framework established by the Bay Partnership in developing the (pollution limits) is consistent with” the law.

EPA established pollution limits for the Bay (also known as the Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL) in December 2010 after regional states failed to meet deadlines in 2000 and 2010 to significantly reduce pollution in the nation's largest estuary.  The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and partners filed a legal action to compel EPA to issue the pollution limits.  

Judge Rambo’s decision allows the Chesapeake region states to move ahead with science-based plans to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution to meet the EPA targets.  These cleanup plans are also called the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint

“This is a great day for clean water in the region.  There could be no better outcome,” said Will Baker, President of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which had joined the lawsuit to argue on behalf of the EPA pollution limits.   “CBF and our partners respectfully salute the thoughtful legal decision making by Judge Rambo.”

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A Delicate Dance with Rattlesnakes

Rattlesnake biologist William Martin (brighter version)Rattlesnakes were once common across the Chesapeake Bay region.  But they were exterminated from many areas of the East centuries ago by settlers who shot them in fear. State governments also offered cash bounties for killing rattlers.
There are only a few thousand timber rattlesnakes left in Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.  The survivors tend to live in mountainous, rocky areas.  They hide in remote parts of federal and state wildlife preserves, including the densely wooded Catoctin Mountains in Frederick County, Maryland.
William Martin beside stone houseOn a recent morning, biologist William H. Martin set off on an expedition into the Catoctin Mountains to survey timber rattlesnakes. He wore plastic armor on his lower legs and wielded a pole with an iron hook. From his pocket he flicked a small square mirror.  Every now and then, he crouched down and angled the mirror to peer under boulders and into rocky crevices.
Martin has been studying rattlesnakes across the Appalachian region for 40 years.  He even lives with several of them at his home in West Virginia.
“Oh, I’ve got about a half dozen adults and about that many babies from last year,” he said, casually (as if rooming with rattlers is as routine as sleeping with dogs).
So I ask: “What kind of safety tips do you have for working with rattlesnakes?”
His reply was simple: “Keep your fingers away from the sharp parts.”

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