Thoughts for the New Year!

Happy New Year!

I now have more than six months at Potomac Riverkeeper Network behind me – I wrote earlier about how much fun I’ve had learning about the organization and the beautiful resources we have the privilege to protect.   Over the past year, my appreciation for the important work the Potomac Riverkeeper Network does to protect the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers has only grown – work that is made possible by our active and generous Board of Directors, members, and supporters throughout the watershed.  So let me start the year with a big thanks to all of you and a few thoughts about the tremendous opportunities I see before us in the year ahead.

One week into the New Year, we are already seeing our advocacy pay off in two of our campaigns.

It’s hard to believe, but we have just realized a major achievement in our No Potomac Pipeline campaign – including a surprising reversal by Larry Hogan, Maryland’s governor.  On January 2, the three-member Maryland Board of Public Works voted unanimously to reject an application by TransCanada for an easement over state parkland for the natural gas pipeline. The panel was convinced that the pipeline was a threat to the Potomac River, would not benefit the citizens of Maryland, was inconsistent with Maryland’s earlier decision to ban fracking, and was inconsistent with the clean energy future that Marylanders’ want to expand our economy and reduce the adverse impacts of climate change on our communities.  While we were surprised by Governor Hogan’s no vote, we are delighted to have his support as well as that of Pete Franchot, the Comptroller and Nancy Kopp, Treasurer

We were also delighted to see that Governor Northam in the Commonwealth of Virginia has joined us in requesting legislative action to ensure that leaky toxic coal ash pits at Dominion Power plants are safely closed and the ash recycling or landfilled. This legislative session, the Virginia General Assembly will consider how to solve this lingering and dangerous problem. Dominion Energy, the owner of the coal ash pits, wants just to cover the pits and call it a day – “cap in place” they call it.

But the toxic chemicals – arsenic, lead, selenium, radium – leach into groundwater, drinking water wells, and our waterways from the bottom, not from the top! The real solution is recycling the ash into much needed concrete for our road and bridges, landfilling in safe disposal site designed to prevent leakage, or a combination of those approaches. We are optimistic that with the leadership of Senator Surovell and Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, common sense and the facts on our side – and now with Governor Northam as well – we will prevail in the General Assembly this year.  But Dominion has a lot of political power, and it will be trying to use it to sway legislators to vote against the interests of the people.  We need you to stand with us and a considerable host of partners (now including Governor Northam) to insist that our lawmakers act responsibly to protect our water and our health.

Unfortunately, the situation at the federal level is not as promising. We face a serious and potentially devastating assault on the Clean Water Act from the new rule proposed by the Trump Administration. This rule would not take us back years in protecting our drinking water, it would take us back decades. Some of you reading this were not even alive during a time when the cleanliness of our water and our waterways was essentially unprotected, but that’s just what the proposal would do for the small streams and wetlands in the headwaters of the Potomac and Shenandoah.  That’s where all the clean water comes from that we all enjoy downstream!  It doesn’t take a PhD to know that water flows downstream and that you can’t protect the rivers if you don’t protect the headwaters that flow into them.  We are working with clean water protectors across the country to oppose this misguided and dangerous rule. Please take a moment to sign our petition supporting clean water and opposing the dirty water rule!

So while the year ahead holds great promise – it also has the potential to return us to the days when our waterways were not reliably protected from pollution.  Let’s act locally to protect the rivers we love and join lend our voices to the groundswell of opposition to the federal rollbacks.  This is our year – let’s do great things together!