The Ch­e­sa­peake in Fo­cus

Trans­form­ing the Nat­u­ral World

Foreword Reviews - - Spotlight Reviews -

Tom Pel­ton, Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity Press (APRIL) Soft­cover $24.95 (264pp), 978-1-4214-2475-0

Tom Pel­ton’s The Ch­e­sa­peake in Fo­cus in­tro­duces the com­pli­cated story of the re­gion’s en­vi­ron­men­tal restora­tion. The na­tion’s largest es­tu­ary strad­dles a wide swath of the eastern coast­line, and is im­pacted by agri­cul­tural and in­dus­trial pol­lu­tion, in­tense de­vel­op­ment pres­sure, and pub­lic sewage leaks. All of these fac­tors dampen the frag­ile, costly progress of vol­un­tary and gov­ern­men­tal reg­u­la­tion, and cli­mate change threat­ens to up­end all gains with ex­treme weather pat­terns and warm­ing wa­ter tem­per­a­tures.

Short, punchy chap­ters zero in on spe­cific geo­graph­i­cal ar­eas, wildlife, poli­cies, and lo­cal peo­ple. It’s a balanced, or­ga­nized ap­proach that breaks down the many nu­ances of en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­icy-mak­ing and mon­i­tor­ing. Pel­ton isn’t shy about point­ing out prob­lems and pol­luters, pro­fil­ing sev­eral peo­ple with whom he does not agree, in­clud­ing a farmer and fish­er­man, to as­sess their views about the bay.

Though Pel­ton strongly op­poses Pres­i­dent Trump’s EPA dis­man­tling and the “des­per­ate en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism” of many groups’ soft-pedal strate­gies, he also gives credit to politi­cians of both par­ties for en­act­ing the Clean Air and Wa­ter Acts, ban­ning DDT, and other mea­sures that have im­proved en­vi­ron­men­tal quality.

Like other river sys­tems, the Ch­e­sa­peake is af­fected by hu­man ac­tiv­ity em­a­nat­ing far up its wa­ter­shed. Silt, agri­cul­tural pes­ti­cides and an­tibi­otics, and leak­ing mu­nic­i­pal sewage pipes from as far north as New York erode wa­ter quality and dis­rupt the del­i­cate life cy­cles of the bay’s fish, crabs, and birds. Pel­ton pas­sion­ately ar­gues for stronger, long-term fed­eral over­sight to re­verse these prob­lems, and out­lines a se­ries of pol­icy changes in his con­clu­sion.

While one won­ders why Pel­ton would want to splash around in his kayak in the fe­cal-chem­i­cal cock­tail that he de­scribes, the book’s pho­to­graphs show the Ch­e­sa­peake’s serene beauty, and un­der­score why the fight to re­gain this pre­cious re­gion’s en­vi­ron­men­tal health is so im­por­tant.

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