Dear Fellow Marylanders,
It’s Earth Day! I know it seems like every day is another commemoration or greeting card holiday, but this one is important. For the last 53 years, the world has used this day to reconnect with our planet, reflect on our relationship with the environment around us, and show support for the blue marble we all call home.
This is a day of education and action. The environmental challenges facing our planet, fueled increasingly by climate change, are urgent. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), nearly half of our rivers and streams are polluted by excess nutrients.
If you’re still trying to keep your New Year’s resolution and eat healthy, more nutrients may sound good. However, in this case, excess nutrients in water like nitrogen and phosphorus lead to the growth of algal blooms that are harmful to plants and animals. During extreme rain events, river flow also increases, upsetting the delicate salt-water balance of estuaries like the Chesapeake Bay. Too much or too little salt can be deadly for aquatic life. Pollution also can contaminate drinking water sources and impart costly impacts to fisheries, tourism and recreation.
Everyone has a right to clean, safe water, which is why we keep a close eye on nutrient (aka pollution) levels.
It also is no coincidence that low-income neighborhoods and communities of color often face disproportionately high pollutant exposures. Those most affected by contaminants are less likely to be able to afford the necessary water treatment.
That’s why I’ve been proud to work with the Biden administration to deliver historic federal investments to disadvantaged communities that are marginalized, underserved and overburdened by pollution. On Friday, President Biden signed an executive order to further focus federal attention on ending environmental injustice and inequities.
For too long, the nation has under-invested in our water infrastructure. Failing systems – mostly hidden pipes and filtration systems – threaten the environment, and put at risk people’s health, safety and our economy. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), “funding for drinking water infrastructure has not kept pace with the growing need to address aging infrastructure systems … the annual drinking water and wastewater investment gap [the difference between what investments are needed and what repairs will be made] will grow to $434 billion by 2029.”
Over the next 20 years, Maryland’s drinking water infrastructure needs alone are estimated at $9.3 billion in additional funding, according to an EPA assessment.
Recognizing the urgent need to bolster our fragile, aging water infrastructure systems, Congress – with much frequent, vocal urging from me – included water infrastructure funding as part of the historic Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. We provide more than $50 billion through the EPA to improve our nation’s drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure. Still only a down payment of what is needed, this is the single largest investment in water that the federal government has ever made.
Earlier this month, Maryland received $18.3 million towards improving water quality, toward a total of over $167 million this fiscal year, to upgrade drinking water and wastewater infrastructure statewide. Distributed by the EPA, these funds came from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which is the single biggest source for Maryland and other states to upgrade their wastewater and stormwater systems, protect public health and preserve our precious water bodies.
Speaking of water bodies, thanks to the regional coordination efforts of the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program and other partners, and concerted efforts to control nutrient pollution, the Chesapeake Bay had the 10th smallest area impacted by low-oxygen water this past summer. Long-term trends indicate the “dead zone” where fish, crab, and other species cannot live because there is not enough oxygen in the water has been getting smaller. It is encouraging to see that efforts to reduce nutrient pollution are making a difference.
This week, Maryland’s Attorney General Anthony Brown announced a much-anticipated proposed settlement to a 2020 lawsuit brought by Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and the District of Columbia against the EPA for its “failing to require Pennsylvania to develop and implement a plan to meet its commitments to reduce pollution under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.” Pennsylvania has started to make some progress, but more action is essential. The aim is to ensure that upstream states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed take responsibility for mitigating the pollution they send downstream.
This proposed settlement, which also resolves a similar case brought by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and other partners, sets us on a more solid footing for reaching our goals. It’s a win for the Chesapeake Bay and everyone who lives, works and enjoys this national treasure.
I am heartened by all the positive changes to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay and our environment, more generally, but there is still work to be done. Climate change and other environmental issues continue to pose a threat. We cannot become complacent; we must remain committed to taking action to protect our environment.
On this Earth Day, let us celebrate our achievements and keep investing in our planet. At least for now, it’s the only one we have.
Thank you. Please feel free to reply to this email with your thoughts on this topic or any other. I welcome your thoughts.
P.S. This Friday, I was excited to join the groundbreaking for a new assembly plant coming to Sparrows Point in Baltimore County. Using a combination of federal, state, local and private investments, Orsted will create good-paying union jobs that will help turn Maryland into a hub for clean energy up and down the Atlantic and across the country. The Inflation Reduction Act, passed by Congress, included extending and expanding tax credits that are essential to making this project a success.