Academy professor criticizes efforts to save bay


Howard R. Ernst isn't an idealist when it comes to the Chesapeake Bay.

He knows oystermen will never again pull 120 million-pound harvests from clear, grassy waters, as they did annually in the late 1800s.

But he still believes the bay can be saved. Just not the way politicians and conservationists are going about it.

In a new book, "Chesapeake Bay Blues," the Naval Academy political science professor attacks the bay restoration effort as a failure and calls for a new way of looking at conservation.

"You're not doing it. You're not funding it," Mr. Ernst said of politicians and conservationists. "You get all the political gain of shaking hands and saying, 'We have a new agreement,' and congratulating ourselves, but then we don't come up with the necessary funds."

"And in 2010, people will be asking, 'Why didn't we restore the bay?"'

Although the 190-page book is one of many on the Chesapeake Bay's problems, Mr. Ernst's focus is on the political process.

Mr. Ernst notes a shortfall of billions of dollars has surfaced after a bay cleanup agreement was signed in June 2000 by Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The cost of the agreement was projected at $18.7 billion by the end of the decade. But only $5.9 billion, including contributions from states and the federal government, has been earmarked by 2010 for bay cleanup efforts, according to the Chesapeake Bay Commission.

Mr. Ernst calls for a "1 percent campaign," in which Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania (which contributes runoff to the bay even

though it doesn't border it) commit 1 percent of their overall budgets to a trust fund. The money would be used for capital improvements to help the bay.

Mr. Ernst also blames a lack of regulations for slow progress in restoration. Too many measures are voluntary, he said.

"I think it's great to be friends, but after 100 years of making friends, the bay is still dirty," he said. "I think we ought to start thinking about a different approach."

Mr. Ernst goes a step further to say a "cozy political partnership" exists between lawmakers, conservationists, policy-makers and even the scientific community, resulting in "endless committees" and only a perception of success.

All the while, he said, oyster and crab populations collapse, nutrients pollute the bay and oxygen levels remain low.

Mr. Ernst urged the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to become more of a political voice by contributing to campaigns and endorsing candidates.

"They claim to be the watchdog for the bay, and I just don't see it," Mr. Ernst said.

Theresa M. Ms. Pierno, vice president of environmental protection and restoration for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said her agency puts half its resources into education and half into lobbying and advocacy. Both halves are crucial to helping the bay in the long run, she said.

"We certainly don't want to put the focus just on the dollars. That would be a big mistake. That would be the wrong message to the public," Ms. Pierno said.

The foundation, with an annual budget of $20 million, is known for its educational programs - taking 40,000 students onto the bay every year and teaching 3,000 educators annually about bay restoration.

But the agency also has cooperated with watermen and legislators to help pass a legislation to protect bay buffers, conserve forests and to ban phosphates in detergents, Ms. Pierno said.

"We've shown there's a lot to be said for working with these interests," Ms. Pierno said. "We've been hugely successful."

As for Mr. Ernst's point that restoration policies should be regulations, not voluntary agreements, Chesapeake Bay Commission Executive Director Ann Swanson said he is right - in part.

"I think for the bay program to accomplish as much as it has already, there had to be a mix of voluntary and regulatory programs," she said.

Ms. Swanson's commission is made up of legislators and cabinet secretaries from the three states.

Several major regulations have evolved over the last 20 years only "with the consent of the people," she said.

Published June 09, 2003, The Capital, Annapolis, Md.