EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said today that the Obama Administration supports the passage of new federal clean water laws that would give the federal agency more power to stop pollution and hold states accountable for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.
“We believe additional legislation (to accelerate the Bay cleanup) is a very good thing and have endorsed that idea,” Jackson (pictured at right) said during a meeting in Arlington, Virginia, of Bay area government officials called the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council. "We believe legislation has to include additional authorities for the federal government."
Despite the general support, the EPA Administrator said that the Obama Administration has not yet taken a position on the specific language of a landmark Bay cleanup bill pending before Congress, called the Chesapeake Clean Water Act.
The legislation is the most important clean water bill in a generation for the Chesapeake region.
The act would establish in federal law pollution reduction targets for Bay area states and the District of Columbia. States would be held accountable to achievement of the goals and the bill would allow EPA to withhold federal funds or oppose permits as punishments for governments that fail to meet two year milestones.
The bill has been endorsed by 18 Bay area members of Congress members. Advocates, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, believe the act is necessary because the Chesapeake area governments have blown two deadlines (in 2000 and 2010) for cleaning up the nation’s largest estuary.
During this morning’s meeting, Jackson assumed the chair of the Chesapeake Executive Council, an advisory body of Bay region government officials.
The ceremony had a surreal feeling. The mood of the event, in a glass-walled, penthouse conference room with a spectacular view of the Potomac River, was upbeat and festive, almost like a victory party. State officials from Maryland and Virginia handed each other gifts and patted each other on the back for what they called their great work in reducing pollution in the Bay.
Virginia State Delegate John Cosgrove (pictured at left) gave Governor Kaine (at right) a re-usable, biodegradable shopping bag – “tree-hugger friendly” – containing a bottle of Virginia wine.
Governor O’Malley of Maryland, a bar-room guitar man and songwriter, handed Kaine (also a musician) a harmonica as a thank-you for his recent term as chairman of the Chesapeake Executive Council. “It’s in the key of C, for courage and consensus,” O’Malley quipped.
But the backdrop for the bonhomie was the beginning of a new year, 2010, in which the Bay area governments are projected to fail – by a mile -- to meet the deadline of a Chesapeake cleanup. The states promised in 2000 to restore the Bay's water quality by 2010.
With the Bay still in critical condition, that harmonica should be playing the blues. That tune could change, however, if Congress passes the Chesapeake Clean Water Act. To find out if your Congressman supports this landmark bill, click here. To take action yourself in support of the bill, click here.
During the event, Administrator Jackson admitted that, in the past, EPA “has not exercised all of the tools it currently has” to reduce pollution. But she also added that EPA’s authority to control pollution is “limited” in some areas, especially concerning stormwater runoff.
“It hasn’t worked up to now on the two biggest problems that contribute to (runoff) pollution, frankly, development …and runoff from agriculture,” Jackson said.
Runoff pollution from agriculture is the source of about half of the nitrogen and phosphorus pollution that is causing low-oxygen dead zone in the Bay. Runoff pollution from suburban sprawl continues to grow at a smothering rate.
“The time for talking has indeed passed,” Jackson said. “We are ready to act.”
Governor Kaine said that the Bay region failed to meet the 2010 cleanup goal in part because the regional governments in 2000 set a goal too far into the future. Now the governments are pursuing two-year milestones, instead of 10 year goals. Kaine suggested this will promote more concrete progress because they are more short-term .
“We acknowledge that setting the goals as long-term goals … did not lead to the accountability that we needed,” Kaine said. “Instead, individuals would sit around a table, they would set a goal, knowing that they would not be there when the goal would be reached. And there would be no pressure on the front end to work hard to meet the goal.”
Governor O’Malley noted that not all news bubbling up from the Bay these days is grim. He said Maryland and Virginia worked together to successfully boost populations of blue crabs by imposing new restrictions on harvesting females. As a result, he said, a survey of blue crabs last year suggested a more than 40 percent rise in the population.
“When the Bay’s blue crab stock was plummeting, diving, in danger of totally imploding, governor Kaine (and O’Malley) joined forces, stepped up, and together in partnership we made the tough decisions necessary,” O’Malley said. “And now we see that blue crab population rebounding. It’s early. We’re not done yet. But it shows what can be done.”