The region's governors are asking President Barack Obama to recognize the Chesapeake Bay as a "national treasure" and assert stronger federal leadership in efforts to clean up the nation's largest estuary.

A letter hand-delivered to the Obama administration by Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine on behalf of the Chesapeake Executive Council asks the president to issue an executive order that would elevate Bay restoration efforts to a top national priority.

The letter also called for a series of legislative actions that would strengthen-and increase funding for-Bay initiatives.

"Our capacity to respond to today's challenges is compromised by the lack of authority to take bold and innovative approaches to existing and emerging challenges, the lack of coordination among federal programs, and chronic under-funding of management and...restoration efforts at all levels of government," the letter stated.

"While we have made tremendous progress, we will not succeed without full engagement and support of the next Administration and Congress."

The letter was delivered by Kaine to new EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson during a meeting Feb. 11. The two discussed Bay cleanup efforts, and the upcoming Executive Council meeting scheduled for May 12 at Mount Vernon.

A similar executive order request was made during the Bush administration, but languished. The political prospects may be brighter this time. Kaine, who is chairman of the Executive Council, was an early supporter of Obama, was considered a potential vice president, and was ultimately selected by the president to head the Democratic National Committee.

An executive order is a directive for the president that directs actions of the executive branch of government, including federal agencies.

The proposed order says the Bay is "a National Treasure constituting the largest estuary of the United States and one of the largest and most biologically productive estuaries in the world" and would make it federal policy to prioritize its restoration.

Specifically, it would require all agencies to evaluate how any action they take may impact the Bay and its water quality; to use their programs to protect, conserve and enhance the Bay and its resources; implement a system to prioritize the distribution of federal grant, loan or formula funds to restoration projects in areas that would provide the greatest water quality benefits; and ensure that agency programs will, to the maximum extent practicable, advance Chesapeake Bay restoration goals.

Agencies would need to provide annual descriptions of actions they took in the previous year related to the executive order.

The EPA would be directed to use its authority under the Clean Water Act "to the maximum extent possible" to clean the Bay and identify any new authority needed to enforce water quality standards. "EPA must provide clear-cut guidance on what is required to satisfy the enforcement, monitoring, and reasonable assurance provisions of the Bay Total Maximum Daily Load," the proposed order states.

The energy and agriculture secretaries would develop science-based standards that would advance the development of "next generation" biofuels while ensuring the crops used for those biofuels do not contribute to water pollution, the spread of exotic species or soil erosion.

Under the proposed executive order, the White House Office of Management and Budget would develop an interagency budget that combines all federal funds from all agencies that are targeted toward the Bay effort in order to promote better coordination.

It would direct the U.S. Department of Agriculture to fully fund and implement the $188 million program targeting the Chesapeake Bay watershed that was included in the 2008 Farm Bill. It also calls for the Secretary of Agriculture to sit on the Executive Council.

In addition, agencies would be directed to improve access on public lands around the Bay.

The letter follows up on a promise made by Kaine at last November's Executive Council meeting to present Obama "with a precise and targeted plan" for federal actions that would help Bay restoration efforts.

The letter was written on behalf of all non-federal Executive Council members which includes, besides Kaine, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, District of Columbia Mayor Adrian Fenty, and Chesapeake Bay Commission Chairman John Cosgrove.

Besides the executive order, the letter called on the president to work with Congress in supporting five specific legislative actions that would help restore the Bay. They include:

  • Congress should reauthorize and strengthen the state-federal Chesapeake Bay Program to ensure a cleanup program is developed and implemented to achieve needed nutrient and sediment reduction goals, and to accelerate restoration. The legislation should also authorize the National Academies of Science to serve as an independent evaluator to assess the effectiveness of the Bay Program and actions to restore the Chesapeake.
  • Congress should include language and funding when it reauthorizes the federal transportation act to help mitigate the degradation of water quality stemming from stormwater runoff from federally funded highways and other impervious surfaces.
  • Congress should provide federal funding to upgrade the Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant in the District of Columbia. Blue Plains, the largest treatment plant in the Bay watershed, will require nearly $3.2 billion to upgrade.
  • Congress should fully fund the EPA Clean Water State Revolving Fund which provides low interest loans to help upgrade water infrastructure such as wastewater treatment plants. Funding for the program has steadily declined in recent years, to about $700 million. The letter called for providing a minimum of $5 billion a year to the fund.
  • Congress should enact legislation to create a new Clean Water Trust Fund, capitalized at $10 billion, that would repair and upgrade water infrastructure and help finance runoff control practices. The fund would help leverage state or local spending for the projects by requiring a match for federal funds.