What do oyster over-harvesting, pesticide use, clean energy, and banning plastic bags have in common? These issues brought together community members and environmental organizations to talk about the state of the environment on the Eastern Shore.
The Washington College Center for the Environment & Society hosted the Eastern Shore Environmental Legislative Summit on Oct. 6.
In efforts to promote the zero-waste event, single-use water bottles were banned from Decker Theatre.
The summit addressed environmental issues that are among the most pressing and severe today.
“[Washington College] has been here 237 years, and we are not going anywhere,” Director of the Center for the Environment & Society Dr. John Seidel said. “What does it say on our role as citizens? To fully participate in government and for it to be a healthy, thriving government, we need to have citizens that are educated on policy and important issues of the day.”
Chair of the Sierra Club of the Lower Eastern Shore Group Susan Olsen introduced the summit’s master of ceremonies, Speaker Pro Tempore of the House of Delegates Sheree Sample-Hughes.
Delegate Sample-Hughes was the only member of the Eastern Shore delegation who voted for the Clean Energy Jobs Act.
The Clean Energy Jobs Act requires the state of Maryland to re-utilize 50% renewable energy by 2030 and 100% renewable energy by 2040. Money for job training in the renewable energy field is also available as part of the law, according to Olsen.
“My mission today is to make you aware that the Eastern Shore is ground zero for climate change,” Delegate Sample-Hughes said.
Maryland has lost over half a million dollars in property damage because market growth has been impeded by increased tidal flooding linked to sea level rise, according to Delegate Sample-Hughes.
Delegate Sample-Hughes kicked off the summit with a panel, facilitated by Mayor of Salisbury Jake Day, representing four major environmental organizations: the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Maryland Pesticide Education Network, Sierra Club Maryland Chapter, and the Maryland League of Conservation Voters.
Maryland Executive Director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation Alison Prost began by discussing the situation of the oysters in the Chesapeake Bay.
“We are currently in a time of historical overfishing. Once [oysters] seat themselves onto something hard, they do not move. Our job is to make sure their voice is heard,” Prost said.
To help end over-fishing, Foundation worked with the Department of Natural Resources to develop a plan for ending over-fishing and creating sustainable fisheries.
This plan was vetoed after last session, but Prost expects that it will come up during the 2020 session, whether through a new piece of legislation or a veto-override.
“We want to make sure that we can harvest oysters for generations to come. It may look a little different, it may have to be done little differently, but it can work,” Prost said.
Cleo Braver of the Maryland Pesticide Education Network echoed Prost’s sentiments for the public to get involved and highlighted environmental hopes for the 2020 legislative session.
“Our goal is to educate Maryland and give them the information they need to protect themselves from pesticides,” Braver said.
One pesticide the summit hopes will be banned in 2020 is pyrifos, a carcinogenic pesticide that causes brain damage in children. The ban on pyrifos passed the Maryland House of Delegates, but did not pass the Senate due to a tightened end of session.
Throughout the panel, Braver and Prost, along with Sierra Club Maryland Chapter Legislative Chair Mark Posner and Political Director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters Kristen Harbeson, emphasized the importance of community involvement.
“Speak up and be heard. Those [information] emails can be frustrating at times, but those individual stories of how the environment matters to you are the most important,” Prost said.
The panelists urged younger audiences to get involved in the environmental conversation. Delegate Sample-Hughes’s sixteen-year-old son, Noah, an up-and-coming environmental activist, was in the audience. Olsen informally dedicated the summit to him and other young people like him.
“Our young people are watching us. They are watching, they are listening, they are reading, they are trying to grasp a better understanding of what we can do in policy change and as citizens having a conversation,” Delegate Sample-Hughes said.
The Maryland community has to learn and see what other resources are out there, so everyone can affect change, according to Delegate Sample-Hughes.
Following a short break in the summit, former Delegate of Montgomery County Heather Mizeur moderated the legislative panel with Delegate Dana Stein of Baltimore County and Delegate Vaughn Stewart of Montgomery County. Both delegates discussed upcoming environmental legislation and challenges and strategies to getting those legislation pieces through the General Assembly.
Delegates Stein and Stewart discussed the hopeful Maryland passage of the Green New Deal, a series of climate and environmental legislation that was introduced to Congress. The Green New Deal seeks to implement renewable energy sources across the United States, according to Delegates Stein and Stewart.
All panelists from both halves of the summit urged the audience to speak to not only their local leaders but also their district representatives and lobby their senators to get their voices out there about the environment.
“If you are not being heard, speak to someone different, but don’t stop talking,” Prost said.