President Barack Obama signed an executive order today directing the federal government to take a new leadership role in the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay. The action came after Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine (pictured at left) specifically asked for a presidential order to help the restoration of the nation's largest estuary.
“The Chesapeake Bay is a national treasure,” President Obama wrote in the document, which was released this afternoon during a meeting of Bay region elected officials in Mount Vernon, Virginia. “Restoration of the health of the Chesapeake Bay will require a renewed commitment to controlling pollution from all sources… The federal government should lead this effort.”
The order was announced by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson (in photo above, at right) at a press conference with Kaine (above), Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and other top regional officials.
President Obama's words are encouraging. Under the executive order, a proposed new Federal Leadership Committee, led by EPA and made up of the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Transportation and other federal agencies, within 120 days must produce draft reports on what regulatory changes and new policies are needed to restore water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.
This could be a step in the right direction. But really, it is not more committees and reports that the Bay needs. The Chesapeake needs strong actions, especially enforcement of the federal Clean Water Act. And this is still lacking.
Leaders of New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Delaware and the District of Columbia during the meeting of the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council released new two-year goals for reducing nitrogen and phosphorus pollution. By 2011, the governments pledged to reduce nitrogen pollution by an additional 6.9 million pounds, and phosphorus pollution by an another 463,948 pounds.
But these goals are small in comparison to the much more substantial pollution cuts needed for a healthy Bay. At the proposed rate of improvement, the Chesapeake will never be saved anytime soon. And, tellingly, EPA has yet to propose any specific penalties in case the states fail to follow through on their promises.
Most disturbingly, the elected officials in the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council set a new deadline for Bay cleanup in 2025. Back in 1987, the Bay area leaders set a deadline of 2000 – then pushed this back to 2010. And now they want to kick it back another decade and a half.
In a more encouraging sign, EPA Administrator Jackson, during the press conference in front of President George Washington’s former home, with its sweeping view of the Potomac River, said that the federal agency will look to increase enforcement of environmental laws.
“EPA is going to evaluate over the next several months regulatory and enforcement options to make sure that those who are polluting the Bay know that there is a level playing field, ” Jackson said.
“If there are those who are out there who want to take significant actions to improve this Bay, EPA wants to work with you,” Jackson said. “But if there are those who want to wait and see, I can assure them that EPA will be looking to step up its enforcement actions.”
But Jackson added that, EPA is not immediately looking to cut off federal funds to states as a stick to force cleanup.
Maryland Governor O’Malley said he is glad to see the Obama Administration’s heightened level of commitment on the Chesapeake Bay. “It is a new day for the Bay, because we have our federal government at the table as partners, willing to make investments,” O’Malley said.
He noted that there have been recent hints of improvements in the Bay, including an increase in blue crab populations and more growth of underwater grasses.
Virginia Governor Kaine, chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council, said that Bay region governments still hope to restore the estuary before the 2025 goal, if possible.
“Three words are important, ‘no later than,’” Kaine said of the 2025 deadline. “As new technologies evolve, our scientific understanding improves, and computer models are further refined, I am optimistic that opportunities will arise to further shorten this end date and bring it forward.”
Here are some news stories and editorials about the announcement that ran the next day:
Here is The Washington Post story.
Here is an editorial from The Post.
Here is the coverage from The Baltimore Sun.
Here is an editorial from The Sun.
Here is WBAL-TV coverage.
Here is the Virginian-Pilot story.
Here is an article from the Richmond Times Dispatch.