- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
As Marylanders, we do not leave to future generations what must be done today. We cannot allow a legacy of debt and pollution to be created for our children and grandchildren to inherit. The Chesapeake Bay and our precious natural resources are a critical part of our Maryland traditions and must be protected for the enjoyment and benefit of future generations. Our family farms and shorelines are agricultural gems and economic engines that also must be supported and sustained. These are not two contradicting thoughts, as members of our farming community are some of the best stewards of our environment, and the actions the state has taken over the last couple of years alone show that.
On the environmental front, we have continued to protect our bay and other natural resources in a responsible manner, and we are seeing the results of our active efforts. We reduced runoff by providing grants to owners of wastewater treatment plants to assist them in reducing nutrient pollution to the Chesapeake Bay. We also reduced nutrient pollutants by reducing the number of septic systems in the state and taking steps to avoid sprawl.
Our results speak for themselves. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation reports a 14 percent increase in the bay’s health since 2008, showing that the state is moving in the right direction to have a clean, sustainable bay for future generations. The bay’s blue crab population continued its recovery in 2012, reaching the highest winter survey results since the mid-1990s; the bay’s oyster population is growing as well — at its best levels since 1985.
At the same time, we have taken some major steps in helping our farming communities continue to succeed. Last year, the General Assembly unanimously passed the Family Farm Preservation Act. This bill provided an estate tax exemption of up to $5 million when farmland is passed down from one generation to another and is continued to be used for farming. Maryland has spent $41.5 million in increasing cover crops, tripling the acres of farmland in this environmental preservation program and investing more than $31.5 million into the Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund. We plan to do even more this year by expanding our uses of alternative, green energy, and will continue down our very successful path of keeping more than 330,000 pounds of nitrogen out of the bay. We hope to continue to invest in our environment by creating wind farms off the Eastern Shore, while doing more to remove the sediment runoff from the Conowingo Dam.
Our farming communities and environmentalists have the same goals: a clean bay, sustainable agriculture and good land use policies. Protecting family farmland is great for our farmers and their families, but it also protects the environment and the land for future generations. Having a healthy bay and clean environment produces better crops and a better farming environment. This session, we will continue to seek that balance that helps clean the bay and provide clean energy, while protecting our farming community and making sure Maryland’s agricultural heritage can be sustained for generations to come. Our children and grandchildren deserve nothing less.
Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Prince George’s), Chesapeake Beach
The writer is president of the Maryland Senate.