The Chesapeake Bay has lost one of its most vociferous advocates with the Dec. 6 death of former U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes.

The 87-year-old longtime Maryland congressman and senator died peacefully in Baltimore, according to a statement released by his son, U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes.

Sen. Paul Sarbanes (MD)

Former U.S. Senator Paul Sarbanes (MD), who passed away on Dec. 6, 2020, was a devoted advocate for the Chesapeake Bay, working to support the restoration effort as well as to establish the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network and Capt. John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. 

Environmentalists credited Sarbanes with being one of the first — and strongest — voices in Annapolis and on Capitol Hill to support restoring the Bay.

“The Bay lost a great champion yesterday,” Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William C. Baker said in a Dec. 7 statement. “A man of great intellect, Paul Sarbanes was a lifelong public servant. He was one of the most thoughtful and sincere elected officials I have ever known. At the top of his priority list was protecting the environment. And at the top of that list, saving the Chesapeake Bay.”

Sarbanes was a longtime member of the Bay Foundation as well as a member of the Chesapeake Conservancy’s board of directors. In 2016, he received the Conservancy’s Champions of the Chesapeake Award. He also received recognition during his lifetime from the national and Maryland League of Conservation Voters and the Waterkeeper Alliance, among others.

“Sen. Sarbanes often said, ‘If a state could have a soul, Maryland’s would be the Chesapeake.’ Last night, the Chesapeake lost one of its most dedicated advocates,” said Joel Dunn, the Conservancy’s president and CEO. “As a force behind the creation of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, in many ways he was also a force behind the creation of our nonprofit.”

Sen. Sarbanes and Charlie Stek

U.S. Senator Paul Sarbanes (MD) (left) receives Chesapeake Conservancy's 2016 Champions of the Chesapeake Award from Conservancy board member Charlie Stek, a longtime aide to Senator Sarbanes. 

Sarbanes was born to Greek immigrant parents in Salisbury on the Eastern Shore. The Democrat served in the Maryland House of Delegates 1967–1971, the U.S. House of Representatives 1971–1977 and the U.S. Senate 1977–2007.

His Bay-related achievements began during his state tenure, when he co-authored the funding mechanism for Maryland’s public land-acquisition program, Program Open Space. At the federal level, he played key roles in ushering in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Restoration Act, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Bay education program and the federal oyster restoration program.

The long-running effort to reconstruct Poplar Island as a wildlife haven in the middle of the Bay is formally known as the Paul S. Sarbanes Ecosystem Restoration Project, to mark the lawmaker’s support.

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