Volume 12, Issue 38 ~ September 16-22, 2004
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Gagging on a Better-Bay Recipe

We were disappointed, though not surprised, when the Chesapeake Bay Commission balked last week at endorsing a list of Bay-fixing recommendations assembled by its staff.

Nor is it surprising that Baysiders are past impatient, and a tad confused, at another display of thumb-twiddling over the type of recommendations we’ve been hearing for years.

First, a primer about the players. The Chesapeake Bay Commission is made up of members of states that border the Bay: Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania, plus the District of Columbia. If you happened to catch a Bay Weekly cover story last month, you might recall that the commission is not exactly what it seems.

One might think that in this time of crisis — when oysters, crabs and now rockfish are threatened — something called the Chesapeake Bay Commission would be hell-bent on solving problems. Indeed, there are a handful of commission members who fit that description.

But as we detailed last month, many commission members get failing grades from the League of Conservation Voters when it comes to environmental protection.

Indeed, they’re appointed by legislative leaders not because of their zest for conservation but to “balance interests” in the Bay watershed.

That approach might, on occasion, secure support for prominent fixes like the flush tax, a new revenue stream approved by the Maryland General Assembly last year for repairing antiquated sewage treatment plants.

But in these times, we think balance is insufficient. We think that our legislative leaders ought to be appointing commission members who have a sense of urgency about the ills plaguing Chesapeake Bay.

To us, balance looked more like inertia when the commission, meeting in Harrisburg, Pa., last week declined to vote on recommendations that strayed little beyond the realm of basic.

Commission staff presented to members a list of some three dozen so-called best management practices that are known to curb the flow of Bay-choking nitrogen. The list was narrowed to seven cures proposed by the staff as the surest and cheapest ways to get a handle on the Chesapeake’s biggest pollution problems. Six of the seven were aimed at changing how farmers do business. Among the basics were planting cover crops to stanch runoff and changing the diets of livestock.

We commend staff members for being truthful. Too bad the commission didn’t listen.

We’re told that a vote might be taken in November, when we pray commissioners will have cleared their throats and be ready to swallow — if not savor — legislative recipes to help farmers make changes critical for saving that precious resource, our Chesapeake Bay.

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