We should help preserve the Bay, but we should not be bullied

June 15, 2012

Maryland has been blessed with the Chesapeake Bay, and few of us, even here in Western Maryland, haven’t enjoyed some aspect of its presence, its history and its bounty.

Therefore, we willingly acknowledge our responsibility to help maintain its well-being. The Bay’s waters might not lap our soils, but we realize that our waters will eventually become part of the Bay.

For the most part, we believe that our citizens have taken this responsibility seriously, be it through tree plantings, stream buffers or farmland nutrient management.

But just as we have a responsibility to keep the Bay’s headwaters pure, the environmental groups and agencies that promote the Bay’s welfare have a responsibility to be on the level with us and to provide realistic goals for waste and nutrient reduction.

That responsibility is breached when state and federal environmental agencies tell us Washington County and the municipalities within its borders need $1.1 billion in water-protection upgrades to meet upcoming EPA standards.

If that wild sum was supposed to scare local governments into action, it has been a failure. In fact, it has likely had the opposite effect. Local leaders have snickered derisively over the estimate and not without reason.

Even stretched over the next 13 years to meet 2025 benchmarks, this figure — which would almost be the equivalent of Washington County’s entire budget for four years running — is wildly unworkable.

It might be nice if we could afford such a figure; it might indeed be what would be ideal to bring the Bay back to health. But it completely destroys the government obligation to work with local jurisdictions in an honest way.

When the EPA bandies about such numbers, we lose respect for the cause at hand and for the EPA itself. Environmentalists who wonder why the agency that has responsibility for the great outdoors — which most all of us love — often suffers from a poor reputation will find their answer here.

We understand the Bay’s importance. We understand that significant prices will have to be paid for its preservation and we understand that changes are coming that will affect our way of life (particularly to those who rely on septic tanks).

Some of these changes we agree with and some we don’t. But scare tactics are unlikely to make those who live in the Bay’s watershed any more willing to listen and pitch in.

We accept our responsibility to do our fair share for the Bay. What we ask in return is that we not be bullied, unfairly singled out or submitted to ruses based upon childish shock value.

For the EPA, all this $1.1 billion price tag has done has served to cheapen its own argument. And our environment is too important to be so poorly represented.

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