News Article

Cardin: Clean water effort must continue in face of opponents
May 3, 2016


By: E.B. Furgurson III

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin hosted a roundtable discussion on water quality in Annapolis Monday to highlight progress on some legislation moving through Congress and successful battles against efforts to dilute environmental progress.

Cardin noted the Water Resources Development Act, making its way through Congress, includes an increase in oyster recovery funds from $60 million to $100 million. It also includes parts of a previous Cardin bill to improve the investment in water infrastructure with $70 billion over 10 years.

But mostly he listened.

“Nothing is more important to me than the Chesapeake Bay,” he told the gathering at the Annapolis Maritime Museum.

“The program we have in place for the bay is a model for the country, but it gets attacked by national groups, not local groups,” he said.

Cardin, a Democrat, said the work must go on.

Water Roundtable

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin hosted a roundtable discussion on water quality in Annapolis Monday to highlight progress on some legislation moving through Congress and successful battles against efforts to dilute environmental progress.

“We need to continue the effort and continue assessing our progress on a regular basis,” he said. “But we also have to be defensive to make sure bad things don’t happen.”

He noted legislative efforts to weaken the Clean Water Rule, which governs the protection of waterways, streams and rivers. Part of the problem was a Supreme Court decision about 10 years ago that created uncertainty for enforcing the regulations.

Neither the court nor Congress have clarified the issue, which led the Environmental Protection Agency under President Barack Obama to issue new rules that essentially return things to the way they were before the court muddied the issue.

“It provides more surety, based on science,” Cardin said.

While the rule is tied up in court challenges, bills in Congress have tried to weaken enforcement.

“But so far we have been successful in blocking the blocks,” he said. “And we will continue to try and do that.”

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, as ranking member of the appropriations committee, has been busy swatting riders to bills to cut funding for environmental efforts as well, he added.

Local conservation leaders had their own version of the struggle to keep progress moving.

Severn Riverkeeper Fred Kelly told the senator about continued frustration with some at the EPA who are reluctant to approve some stream restoration projects.

“We have to get two permits, one from the state Department of the Environment and the other from the Corps of Engineers,” he explained. “MDE is totally in sync with us and the Corps works well with us, but we continue to have an issue with EPA staff guys who don’t want to approve new technology we have used.”

The EPA, Kelly said, believes there is not enough data to substantiate the method’s work. He noted that a recent project in Muddy Creek on the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater should provide all the data they need.

“They have 40 years of prior data and we are monitoring the results daily.”

Cardin responded with a message he repeated during the session.

“The key to me is science,” Cardin said. “The point of the work we have done is science. You start with what the science tells you. It tells you what’s happening and what to do about it.”

“So we are not making a political statement; we are trying to push what the science is telling us.”

He went on to note science is explaining what is causing dead zones in the bay, what pollution is causing it, how it is getting into the bay, the dynamics of how the bay cleanses itself and the problems with oysters and sea grasses.

“And how to reverse that. The science tells us what we can do to fix it,” he said.

But he said a group of science deniers is affecting those efforts politically, making it hard to move forward.

“Today it would be very difficult to start the Chesapeake Bay Program in this political environment,” he added.

Rusty Gowland, of the Severn River Association, pointed to ongoing development as a constant hurdle to progress.

“We have all this restoration work, yet at the same time developers are moving full speed ahead,” he said. “It’s like debits and credits. We are not slowing development … pretty soon we will have to start all over again.”

Cardin responded by noting the weakening of the Critical Area law over the years.

“It has been weakened because of the political environment,” he said. “If there was enforcement of the laws we passed at the time, in the spirit and manner in which it was intended we would not have as many of the problems we have today.”

Others pointed out citizen involvement is crucial to getting enforcement and furthering legislative progress.

Suzanne Etgen, executive director of Anne Arundel’s Watershed Stewards Academy, said so many people who want to get involved ” just don’t have the first clue about the science behind it.”

The Academy trains people in neighborhoods across the county about the basics of bay pollution and possible solutions, who then spread the word, she said. She hoped the senator might help get other jurisdictions involved in the same way Anne Arundel County does, in cooperation with the Academy.

Cardin said that despite those types of efforts, it seems people are reluctant to get involved when policy issues move into the political arena.

“There is strong public support; it’s popular. It has never been heavy lifting to support bay efforts. But people and groups are not using their political energy to move the political system.”

“We not only need people engaged, but also to get them involved in the political system, not in a partisan way, but to get the policies we need to get results.”

Kelly added there is frustration out there. People get involved locally when a development is planned or someone is polluting the creek or river near their house.

“But then we don’t get enforcement … and people say, ‘Why bother?’ I have seen people walk away from getting involved because enforcement is lacking.”