Climate change has been called an existential crisis, and rightly so. It is urgent and global – a fact that drew prominent world leaders and thousands of activists to Glasgow, Scotland last month. But for those of us who live in the Chesapeake Bay area, it’s personal. And in its next term, the United States Supreme Court will consider a climate change case that could directly affect our lives and homes.
At stake will be the scope of the authority of the United States Environmental Protection Agency to limit climate pollution from power plants. It may sound like the kind of esoteric subject that only a lawyer could like. In fact, it should be for anyone who enjoys the Chesapeake Bay, the Susquehanna River, the Shenandoah River, and the rest of the tributaries of the bay that bring commerce, recreation, seafood, and joy to our lives.
We are living on the front lines of the climate crisis.
The area of Chesapeake Bay is increasing at double the rate seen in most other parts of the country. Low-lying coastal communities like Annapolis and Old Town Alexandria are flooded so often that we’re no longer surprised to see people kayaking on their flooded streets. The bay’s water level is expected to rise 2 feet in less than 30 years. It could increase 3 to 6 feet by the end of this century if we fail to slow climate change.
Further inland, farmers in Lancaster County, Pa., Face new pests, altered growing seasons and worsening soil erosion fueled by new weather and more frequent storms and more intense. From 1971 to 2000, Pennsylvania experienced an average of only five days per year when the temperature exceeded 90 degrees. By 2050, we expect an average of 37 sweltering days a year.
Rising temperatures in freshwater rivers and streams drive hunting fish like brook trout and smallmouth bass out of their usual habitat, affect the timing of their migration and reproduction, and make them more vulnerable to pests and diseases. The result is unpredictable fishing seasons that disappoint recreational fishermen and threaten the bottom line of the tackle shops, restaurants, campgrounds and other small local businesses that serve them.
Communities of color and low-income communities in the region are often the hardest hit by rising temperatures, extreme weather conditions and more frequent flooding caused by climate change. To compound the problem, people in these communities are more likely to lack the money to relocate, not to mention the lack of political clout that could help them secure financial assistance to recover and rebuild.
Rapidly rising sea levels mean more “sunny days” or “nuisance” flooding. Driven by high tides, these floods regularly submerge the roads on which residents of distressed neighborhoods of Baltimore, Virginia Beach and Maryland’s Eastern Shore rely on commuting to work or doing their daily groceries. Grocery stores, gas stations, dry cleaners and other local businesses that residents cannot reach are also suffering. Regular flooding disrupts business activity, sometimes for days.
Communities of color once marked in red, like Southside Richmond, have become “heat islands” where too many sidewalks and too few trees not only increase residents’ discomfort, but also their risk of developing chronic diseases. like heart disease. And, of course, they have a measurable higher risk of health problems directly related to excessive heat – which will only get worse as temperatures rise.
The organization I work for, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, has been dedicated to restoring the bay and the tens of thousands of miles of streams, streams and rivers that flow into it for over 50 years.
But unchecked climate change could wipe out and ultimately overtake the progress we and other organizations, as well as government agencies, have made to clean up the bay. Warming waters contain less oxygen to support the plant and marine life that sustains our multibillion dollar seafood industry and the communities whose livelihoods depend on it. Rising waters continue to engulf islands across the bay.
Flooding caused by rising sea levels and heavy rainfall caused by more frequent and intense storms increase the amount of pollution that drains into the bay
and its tributaries – farmland laden with fertilizer, chemically treated suburban lawns, sprawling housing estates and grubby city streets.
The Bay’s Total Maximum Daily Load, or Clean Water Blueprint, released by the EPA in 2010, spells out pollution reductions that the six bay watershed states, the District of Columbia, and the EPA must make to restore. the health and productivity of the Bay.
All partners are committed to adopting by 2025 the policies and practices necessary to reduce water pollution in order to achieve these goals. Time is running out and states, especially Pennsylvania, still have a long way to go.
Without aggressive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we simply cannot save this national treasure.
This is why the CBF welcomed the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan in 2015. This landmark rule was the federal government‘s first attempt to control carbon emissions from fossil-fueled power plants, then the greatest source of pollution. carbon footprint. Today, power plants are second to transportation when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions.
The Trump administration repealed and replaced the Clean Power Plan in 2019 with a significantly weaker rule. This would have worsened the effects of climate change that were already wreaking havoc in the watershed and would have made it more difficult to reduce pollution to the limits of the Master Plan.
In 2019, CBF joined other environmental and public health groups to overturn the weaker Trump rule. On January 19, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned the rule and ordered the EPA to draft a new one regulating carbon emissions from power plants.
Coal-producing states and coal companies quickly urged the Supreme Court to reconsider the ruling. Although the Biden administration is drafting a new rule, the High Court has surprised many observers by deciding to hear their appeal when it is resumed in early 2022.
The court could limit the EPA’s ability to control greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. CBF will join its partners in defending the DC Circuit Court ruling, as the law clearly establishes the power of the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from utilities.
This is an important legal argument, of course. But when you’re on the front lines of climate change, making sure we’re tackling it aggressively is also personal.
Jon Mueller is the vice president of litigation for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
The opinions expressed by opinion columnists are not necessarily those of the Bay Journal.