Glendening warns Executive Council against ‘bureaucratic stalling’
In an unusually sharp assessment of the Bay Program’s cleanup progress, Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening told his colleagues on the Chesapeake Executive Council that the state-federal partnership was in danger of stalling because of “bureaucratic inaction.”
At the annual meeting of the cleanup effort’s top policymaking body, Glendening said the Bay had shown little real progress since concerns about the Chesapeake started growing in the 1970s, and that “stronger actions” were needed.
“No one can argue that we’ve done a good job of stopping the decline of the Bay over the last 30 years,” Glendening said. “But we must remember that it is not our goal to arrest the decline. Our goal has been, and must be, to save the Bay.”
Glendening’s comments echoed those that Maryland officials have been making in Bay Program meetings for months, as efforts to set new nutrient reduction goals have slipped at least 16 months behind schedule, casting doubt about whether the Bay states can make the 2010 cleanup deadline set in the Chesapeake 2000 agreement.
Earlier, it had been anticipated that this year’s meeting would be used to announce the new, larger nutrient and sediment reduction goals that will be needed to clean the Bay.
“The goal was to delist the Bay from the EPA’s list of impaired waters by 2010,” Glendening said. “That schedule is already slipping. That is why we must return to the bold actions that have been the hallmark of the Bay Program.”
Glendening said his state would set its own nutrient reduction goals.
His remarks came at the Oct. 31 meeting of the Executive Council, which includes the governors of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania; the mayor of the District of Columbia; the administrator of the EPA; and the chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which represents state legislatures.
The meeting marked the first time that one of the Bay Program partners — Pennsylvania — sent no representative at all. While governors have often skipped meetings in the past, they usually sent a department head as a stand-in.
Council members also warned that, even as the cleanup falls behind schedule, the states and the federal government are facing budget problems that threaten to make the situation worse.
Pennsylvania state Rep. Russ Fairchild, chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, noted that a new study by the commission showed that meeting the Chesapeake 2000 agreement commitments would cost more than $19 billion — a price tag many consider difficult to afford.
“But what we can’t afford to lose is our will,” Fairchild said. “We need to maintain our resolve, our commitment to achieving our goals, and to do that we need to continue to demonstrate leadership.”
It was the first Executive Council meeting for Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, who was chosen to chair the group, replacing District Mayor Anthony Williams.
Warner acknowledged that the Bay cleanup — and the setting of new goals — was behind schedule and said “we must shift our Bay Program efforts into a higher gear.”
“The unfortunate reality is that improvement in the indicators of the Bay’s health is stalled,” he said.
Warner and other council members acknowledged that the Bay has shown some hopeful signs in recent years, especially emphasizing the rebound of Bay grasses. Recently released figures for 2001 estimated that grasses, one of the most important habitats in the Chesapeake, covered 85,252 acres last year, the most observed since monitoring began in 1983.
But council members acknowledged that the rebound stemmed more from the drought — which reduced the amount of nutrients carried in runoff — than from management actions. Increased nutrient control efforts, they noted, could help make such water quality improvements permanent.
“It shows how well Mother Nature can repair herself if given a chance,” said EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman. “We can help her out.”
On another positive note, officials said that the Bay Program’s goal of planting 2,010 miles of streamside forest buffers was achieved this year — eight years ahead of the schedule originally set by the Executive Council in 1996.
“I’ve been in government long enough to know that getting anything done eight years early is rare,” Whitman said. “This success story offers clear evidence of how aggressively our Chesapeake Bay partners are tackling the challenges we face in revitalizing the estuary and the watershed it supports.”
And even during his gloomy assessment of cleanup progress, Glendening did note that in Maryland, more land has been protected than was developed during the past two years.
Nonetheless, Glendening said, the progress on the Bay Program’s cornerstone commitment — nutrient reductions that will improve water quality — is “in danger of stalling.”
“While computer modeling shows progress, we all know that real-life monitoring has also shown that we are not really seeing a lot of progress in the water,” Glendening said. “Fish, crabs, oysters, grasses and waterfowl live in the water, not inside a computer model.”
Not only have the original nutrient reduction goals set for 2000 not been met, he added, they will not be met for another two to four years.
The Bay Program, he said, needs to be reinvigorated with “bold initiatives” that produce results. “We cannot allow the Bay Program to be stalled by bureaucratic inaction,” Glendening said. “We need aggressive and stronger regulations, we need aggressive and stronger enforcement from the federal government, from state government, from local government and from citizen groups.”
Restoring the Bay, he said, is important both because it is a “national treasure” and because it can serve as an example for other troubled coastal waterbodies. “The lessons we learn in restoring the Bay can go beyond this region, they can go beyond the nation, they can make a difference worldwide.”
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