It’s Earth Day. Again.

By Sharon Behn

It’s Earth Day again. What’s changed?

Author and environmental reporter Tom Horton, speaking about the destruction of the once magnificent Chesapeake Bay estuary, has chided that we tend to write about the wreckage and not about what is driving the train.

He is quite right. Reporters are charged with covering the facts in front of them, and have not always felt emboldened to go behind the visible destruction to harder-to-quantify issues, and qualify reasons for the crash.

The public also has tended to focus on the debris and aftermath of agricultural, storm-water, construction and development policies rather than look into what they can do to alter those policies and change their own polluting habits.

But that is beginning to change. After the environmental outrages of a couple of decades ago (Love Canal, New York; Times Beach, Missouri; Pocomoke River, Maryland) the anger eased, but environmental groups ramped up their work.

Today, there is considerable money being poured into environmental research, a lot of sweat is being spent by advocates ensuring that existing legislation is being adhered to, and a lot of grass-roots organizations are working to bring about change on a local level.

The question that is finally being addressed is how much of the pollution we are all personally responsible for: we are all driving that train.

So here are some of the changes:

The Department of Defense is moving to use less petroleum: The U.S. Air Force today launched the Green Hornet by flying over the Chesapeake Bay. The sophisticated F/A-18 twin-engine fighter jet will have its tanks 50 percent filled with oil refined from the crushed seeds of the flowering Camelina sativa plant.

The Executive Branch is supporting pro-environment innovation: Nancy Sutley, head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said progress in the past 40 years since the first Earth Day is about more than just law, reported the Associated Press.  It’s also about innovation that made cleaner cars. And that innovation, Sutley said, “is going to be the answer for tackling climate change.”

National lawmakers also are becoming more active: Last year, Democrat Henry Waxman of California helped pass a climate change bill in the House of Representatives, the American Clean Energy and Security Act, although its fate is unclear. On the Senate side, Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington and Republican Olympia Snowe of Maine have proposed a climate change bill as well, called the Carbon Limits and Energy for America’s Renewal, or CLEAR.

State governors are becoming more pro-active: Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley told WTOP radio that the polluted Anacostia River that runs through the nation’s capital, will go on a “trash diet,” becoming the first river on the East Coast and only the second in the nation where the total amount of trash will be limited every day.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is flexing some muscle: yesterday it announced plans to require “green roofs,” rain barrels and other measures that trap runoff at new and redeveloped buildings in D.C., making the city a test case for an ambitious effort to stop pollution from flowing into rivers along with the rain. The EPA’s plan, as reported in The Washington Post, contained in a proposed permit for the District’s storm-sewer system, would require developers to trap 90 percent of the water that falls on a plot during a storm.

And finally, the media is taking reporting on the environment more seriously: The Atlantic, Mother Jones, Wired, Reuters, Slate, Grist, the Center for Investigative Reporting, and PBS’ “Need to Know” series have all banded together to launch “Climate Desk,” a project that aims to aggregate information on climate control from across different platforms.

About Us

Bay on the Brink is a multimedia reporting project examining the fate of the Chesapeake Bay. It is produced by fellows at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism as part of News21, a consortium of journalism schools. This is the fellows' blog. The full project site is here: http://chesapeake.news21.com
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