Bay Journal

January 2020 - Volume 29 - Number 10

Results of crab pot placement research too close to call it either way

Kyle Wood hauled the metal cage up from its resting place at the bottom of the Patuxent River in Maryland.

There was no telling how many blue crabs it held until the crab pot broke the surface. Wood shook the cage over a black plastic tray until the nine crabs inside finished tumbling out.

He picked them up one by one with a gloved hand and called out their gender to his two crewmates. Then, he used a metal ruler to measure them from one far tip of the shell to the other.

Smallmouth woes range from contaminants to more stress at spawning sites

Smallmouth bass, a leaping delight for anglers, continue to be hounded by mysterious disappearances, low survival rates, gaudy open sores and flood-challenged spawning seasons in the Chesapeake Bay region.

At a recent summit, fisheries biologists, anglers and fishing guides from Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania came together to assess the health of smallmouths and offer theories on the elusive search for causes.

Though more studies are needed, summit participants generally agreed that suppressed immune systems are harming smallmouth bass in a variety of ways. Contaminants from two main sources are compromising their ability to fend off disease: pharmaceuticals running through sewage plants as well as chemicals from pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers running off the land.

‘A crappy business’: Manure broker speaks out on tighter MD rules

Ray Ellis makes a living hauling chicken poop — tons of it, often across state lines.

He owns the largest manure transport company on the Delmarva Peninsula, a region with one of the highest concentrations of meat chickens in the country, with a capacity for 150 million birds.

In other words, if anyone stood to personally gain from a new regulation that would require more chicken farms to ship manure somewhere else, Ellis would be your guy.

Virginia’s data centers: computing the costs

Take VA Route 267 west from the nation’s capital and you’ll head straight into a different sort of traffic — of the internet variety. About 70% of all online activity flows through this pocket of Northern Virginia, home to the world’s largest concentration of data centers.

Across a Loudoun County landscape that was once farmland and forests, sprawling clusters of gray, flat-topped buildings quietly enable the technological machinations — from bank transactions to YouTube videos — that are central to modern life. 

It makes sense to bunch these data centers along established highways of fiber optic cables in the county. But big congregations of data centers, taken as a whole, could also bring environmental consequences.

An early climate leader, MD now at odds over how to address worsening threats

In the race to head off the worst impacts of climate change, Maryland has been a leader among states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed — and in the nation, for that matter.

But the Hogan administration and climate activists are now at odds over whether the state is doing enough, given the lack of federal action and increasing urgency with which scientists say bolder actions are needed to avoid dire consequences.

PA sets lofty goals for climate action, but can it achieve them?

Pennsylvania, which ranks fourth in the nation in its emissions of climate-altering carbon dioxide, took a much bolder stance in addressing climate change in 2019, at least in words.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf unveiled four separate actions aimed at curbing climate change, each bolder than the one before.

Wolf started off in January 2019 by issuing an executive order that set the first statewide goal for greenhouse gas reductions. The target is a 26% reduction by 2025 and an 80% decrease by 2050 from 2005 levels.

Political shift in VA has climate advocates hopeful for action

Virginia, like many coastal states, has been battling climate change primarily on two fronts: reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing coastal communities for rising seas.

The state’s formal response to climate change can be traced to then-Gov. Tim Kaine’s executive order in December 2007 that formed the Governor’s Commission on Climate Change.

Since then, climate action on a state level has been on a rollercoaster. And the political dynamic shifted again in November as Democrats regained control of the General Assembly for the first time in more than two decades. Now, environmental activists hope that change translates into long-awaited action on their climate agenda.

Can the EPA enforce the Chesapeake Bay’s ‘pollution diet’?

Is the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load and its cleanup deadline enforceable? The answer is complicated.

TMDLs are required for any “impaired” waterbody — one that does not meet standards set by a state to ensure a waterbody is safe for people and aquatic life.

A TMDL sets the maximum amount of a pollutant that the waterbody can receive and still meet those standards. The Bay TMDL maximum “loads” are established for the pollutants nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment.

But, in a strict sense, it is not the TMDL that enforces those numbers for individual dischargers. 

MD threatens to sue EPA, PA over lack of action as regional tensions rise

The year 2010 closed with the unveiling of a new Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan lauded by states, federal officials and environmentalists as the rigorous, concrete and enforceable plan that would finally deliver on the promise of a clean and healthy Bay.

Ten years later, a new decade has opened with the restoration effort unlikely to meet its deadline, the regional partnership mired in acrimony and threats of lawsuits — topped with questions about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s willingness and ability to enforce its own cleanup plan.

“This has come to a boil now,” summed up Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-MD, at a Senate hearing on Jan. 8. “This is a moment we need absolute clarity and an enforceable program to hit the targets in 2025.”

Virginia menhaden fishery threatened with moratorium

Virginia faces a threatened shutdown of its large commercial fishery for Atlantic menhaden after federal officials found the state had allowed too many of the commercially and ecologically important fish to be taken from the Chesapeake Bay.

In a letter released Thursday, the head of the Commerce Department agency that regulates federally managed fisheries declared Virginia out of compliance with an interstate management plan for menhaden.

As a result, a statewide catch moratorium will be imposed June 17 if Virginia does not by then adopt and enforce a 2-year-old cap on Bay harvests of the fish.

Chesapeake Bay restoration gets a boost in federal funding

Federal funding for Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts is in line for a boost in the big spending package passed this week by Congress.

Increased Bay-related funding is included in a pair of appropriations bills totaling nearly $1.4 trillion that were agreed upon by delegations from the House and Senate to fund most federal agencies through Sept. 30, 2020, the end of this budget year. The House overwhelmingly passed the bills Tuesday, and the Senate approved them on Thursday. President Trump is expected to sign them promptly into law to avoid a partial government shutdown.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program, which guides the overall restoration work throughout the six-state watershed, will get $85 million, the most it’s ever received. That’s a 16% increase over what the program received annually from Congress for the last five years.

MD Port Administration gives $500,000 to revive community waterfront

A novel plan to refurbish an old waterfront park near Baltimore with sand and silt dredged from the harbor has received its first major infusion of the cash needed to make it a reality.

Community leaders in Turner Station, a historically African American neighborhood in Dundalk southeast of the city, cheered the announcement last week that the Maryland Port Administration would give $500,000 toward their hoped-for revival of Fleming Park.

Group sues PA for violating state’s Environmental Rights Amendment

In 2017, Pennsylvania’s environmental laws were turned upside down when the state Supreme Court ruled that the state, and possibly municipalities, were trustees of public lands and required to protect them for future generations.

Seizing on that broad and still unsettled mandate, the Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation is suing the state agency responsible for 2.2 million acres of state forests, saying it is violating its stewardship obligation by leasing public forestland for the hydraulic fracturing of natural gas.

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