It is at this time of the season that I typically look back over the entire year and reflect on some of the its highlights. For me, one of the most important experiences was my involvement with Maryland's Task Force on Minority Participation in the Environment.
It reminded me that some of us involved in Chesapeake Bay watershed restoration often get too focused on nutrient and sediment reduction. We sometimes forget that there are other issues and pollutants of concern are affecting our region. Sometimes the most important issues are in our own neighborhoods.
In addition, we may carry the mantra of improved water quality just for the benefit of living resources a little too far. Of course, we all want a cleaner environment to improve the ecosystem and bolster the populations of blue crabs, oysters, rockfish, brook trout and submerged aquatic vegetation. But we also need to recognize that a cleaner, healthier environment not only benefits the living resources, but also the people in the watershed. It not just a water quality issue, it is a quality of life issue.
We have failed over the years to properly frame the issue and to put it into a context that reaches beyond the traditional environmental community.
It was a pleasure working with Maryland State Sen. Lisa Gladden and Del. Nathaniel Oaks who co-chaired the task force. The group's final report, released on Nov. 16, is found at www.dnr.state.md.us/education. It details four major areas of concern that I believe would be true if similar studies were conducted in other Chesapeake Bay jurisdictions, including:
- The lack of minorities in key policy positions in state government;
- The lack of attention and funding by traditional environmental organization directed at minority issues and concerns;
- The lack of minority participation to protect and restore the Chesapeake and coastal bays; and
- The lack of public education programs that link minority health issues to environmental conditions
One of the primary recommendations is the creation and funding of the Maryland Minority Environmental & Land Trust. MELT would be the funding body to implement many of the task force's recommendations. The organization would be funded for five years through a $250,000 annual appropriation from the Maryland General Assembly and $100,000 (dollars or in-kind) from each of nine state agencies. This would give MELT at total of $5.7 million in resources over five years.
A second recommendation is the establishment of a virtual environmental center in the state. It will be composed of existing environmental centers at historically black colleges and universities; satellite centers at other universities; and minority communities throughout the state. It is anticipated that this virtual environmental education center will enhance minority participation in the environment through engagement in research and development, university education, job force training, mentoring, and outreach and communications.
Another key recommendation is the creation of an Inter-Agency Workgroup and Steering Committee that would track progress on these issues through Gov. Martin O'Malley's innovative BayStat process.
Those interested in learning about this work should contact Vince Leggett at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Alliance endorses this type of inclusiveness of all the citizens in the Bay watershed, because it is only by everyone working together that we will be able to create a region where blue crabs, brook trout and children can thrive.