The Environment in Focus

The Environment In Focus
11:27 am
Wed May 27, 2015

Planting Diamonds in the River

Richard Moncure Jr. is the son of a Chesapeake Bay waterman. But as fish and oyster populations in the bay fell, the prospects of his family’s line became as murky as the estuary itself.  So first he first studied religion.  Then he joined the Peace Corps.

  “I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with my future,” the 35-year-old confessed while sitting on a chunk of cement beside the wind-swept, brown waters where he used to fish with his father. “I knew Jesus was a fisherman. But I had a lot of questions.”

During a two-and-a-half-year tour of duty with the Peace Corps in Zambia, met African watermen who had so badly overfished their lake they had nothing left.  Moncure’s job was to teach them sustainable fishing. He instructed them in the business of fish farming: how to grow their own tilapia in ponds, instead of netting the few remaining fish from the lake.

Although the effort was successful, the whole time he was in Africa, Moncure couldn’t help thinking about home.  And when his mission ended, Moncure decided to return to the Chesapeake and his family’s traditional businesses. 

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The Environment In Focus
4:50 pm
Tue May 19, 2015

Debunking the Myth of the “Cell from Hell”

Eighteen years ago, Maryland was gripped by the Pfiesteria crisis. Governor Parris Glendening closed off parts of three Eastern Shore rivers because of reports that a toxic micro-organism – Pfiesteria piscicida  -- was causing fish kills and memory loss in watermen.

Headlines in The Washington Post headlines warned of “the cell from hell.”  Panic drove down sales of Chesapeake Bay seafood.  The source of the outbreak: manure from Eastern shore poultry farms that fed toxic algal blooms.

In the nearly two decades since then, the manure runoff problem has continued and even worsened. But no more fish kills or illnesses have been attributed to Pfiesteria, which seemed to vanish as inexplicably as it appeared.

So what happened?   Was Pfiesteria just a bad dream? There is growing evidence that the Pfiesteria frenzy was a case of scientific error that triggered an over-reaction by government, journalists, and consumers.

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The Environment In Focus
11:26 am
Tue May 12, 2015

Call of the Coywolves

Coyotes, which are native to the West, over the last three decades have been moving into Maryland and multiplying in suburban and even urban environments like Baltimore.   

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The Environment In Focus
3:26 pm
Tue May 5, 2015

A River Swims With Life After a Dam Removal, But Now Faces New Threat

It’s early morning and sun blazes down, flashing off the rapids of the Rappahannock River in Fredericksburg, Virginia. 

Woodie Walker stands in waders, flicking a fly fishing line into the rain- swollen waters an hour south of Washington, D.C.   All around him, the silvery blue backs of scores of fish flash like blades from the gray-green current and then disappear.

It is the running of the shad, an annual springtime ritual in which the migratory fish surge up Chesapeake Bay tributaries to spawn.   Cormorants stand on the rocks, feasting on the profusion of fish, as vultures circle overhead.

Walker, a conservationist with an environmental group called the Friends of the Rappahannock, said he has seen an increase in several species of fish in recent years – a trend confirmed by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

 “The hickory shad is doing very well, and the American shad is doing better," Walker said.  "A lot of the reason is that 11 years ago, Friends of the Rappahannock and other partners, including the Army Corps of Engineers, removed a dam about 5 miles upstream from here. And that dam was obviously an impediment to the migratory fish -- the shad and the striped bass. Removing the dam has really improved access for fish, and as a result our fishery is getting better.”

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The Environment In Focus
3:41 pm
Tue April 28, 2015

The Legal Attack on President Obama’s Greenhouse Gas Regulations

The Obama Administration this summer is scheduled to release final rules meant to reduce carbon dioxide pollution from coal-fired power plants by nearly a third within 15 years.

The so-called Clean Power Rule would be a significant step forward in addressing climate change, because power plants are the largest single source of carbon dioxide in the U.S.   The EPA regulations would eliminate as much greenhouse gas pollution as taking 150 million cars off the road – almost two thirds of America’s vehicles.

Before the rule can take effect, however, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has been meeting with governors and offering states a legal blueprint to challenge the Constitutionality of the regulations. His goal is to stop the rules by tying them up in court. 

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The Environment In Focus
3:57 pm
Tue April 21, 2015

New Study Suggests Air Pollution Hurts Brains and Behavior of Children

For decades, scientists have known that air pollution harms people's bodies. Microscopic particles released by the burning of coal, oil and gasoline slip into people’s lungs and bloodstreams and trigger asthma and heart attacks.

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The Environment In Focus
2:44 pm
Tue April 14, 2015

Maryland’s “Rain Tax” Gets Flushed

The Maryland General Assembly’s annual session ended at Midnight  on Monday with both good and bad news on environmental issues.

On the negative side, stormwater pollution control fees mandated by a 2012 state law to clean up the Chesapeake Bay were attacked as an unfair “tax on rain.”

In the end, lawmakers voted 47-0 in the state senate, and 138-1 in the house, to approve a bill by Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller that would eliminate the requirement that the state’s most heavily populated counties and Baltimore impose stormwater pollution control fees.   

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The Environment In Focus
2:09 pm
Tue April 7, 2015

Maryland Senate Approves Fracking Moratorium

On Monday night, the Maryland Senate voted 45 to 2 in favor of imposing a two year moratorium on allowing any hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in the state.

Two weeks earlier, the House had voted in favor of a three year ban on fracking, which is the injection of water and chemicals into shale rock formations to extract oil and gas.  It is now likely the two chambers of the legislature will reach a compromise and impose some sort of a fracking moratorium by the time the General Assembly session ends on Monday.

The big questions now are whether Republican Governor Larry Hogan will veto the restrictions by the Democratic controlled legislature.  And whether lawmakers will approve insurance requirements for drillers that some Republicans predict could scare away the industry.   

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The Environment In Focus
2:21 pm
Tue March 31, 2015

Protections for Honey Bees Killed by Farm Lobby

Populations of honey bees have been falling over the last decade, eliminating pollinators necessary for the farming of many fruits, vegetables, and nuts. 

Scientists have concluded that one of the likely contributing causes of the bee deaths is the growing use of insecticides on farms and gardens.  Chemicals called neonicotinoids – or neonics, for short -- contain a form of nicotine that is intended to kills pests.  But neonics also cause subtle damage to the nerve systems of bees, intoxicating them so that they can’t find their way back home to their hives. The bees wander off and die.

Researchers say other factors may be involved in the bee declines, too – including a virus, parasites, the destruction of flowering trees and meadows, and stresses from modern industrial farming practices, which require truckloads of bees to be hauled thousands of miles to pollinate fruit and nut farms.

But the disease  and parasite problems may be worsened by the application of insecticides, which weaken bees.   So in 2013, the European Union imposed a two-year ban on the use of neonicotinoids.

In Maryland, a bill in the General Assembly would take steps toward restricting the use of neonics. Senate Bill 163 would ban the sale of the insecticides to homeowners who spray the chemicals on their gardens. 

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The Environment In Focus
2:45 pm
Tue March 24, 2015

Governor Reaches Compromise with Chesapeake Bay Advocates, Eliminates Poultry Industry Loophole

A political game of chicken ended peacefully in the Maryland General Assembly last week.

Republican Governor Larry Hogan -- who once pledged to make it is his “first fight” to stop poultry manure pollution regulations --  had been facing off against Democratic state lawmakers who wanted a law to protect the Chesapeake Bay from manure runoff.  Last week, they reached a compromise that was praised by both environmentalists and farmers.

In the compromise, the Hogan administration issued revised poultry manure management regulations that will phase in restrictions on the over-application of poultry manure to Eastern Shore farm fields already saturated with phosphorus from manure.  The new rules will offer farmers flexibility, but have a firm deadline of 2024.  Runoff of manure from the state’s 300 million chickens contributes to fish-killing dead zones in the Bay.

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