Dismay over the pace of the Chesapeake cleanup may soon translate into legal action as the region’s largest environmental group and waterman’s association are each eyeing lawsuits as the way to force action.
In July, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation received a $1.25 million grant to fund lawsuits against government agencies it views as moving too slowly to regulate pollution.
The grant, from Philadelphia-based Lenfest Foundation, will finance the foundation’s Chesapeake Bay Watershed Litigation Project, paying attorneys to try to force the government to enforce environmental standards, officials said.
While the group has taken legal actions in the past, most of its staff attorneys spend their time on other matters, such as working on legislation, said Theresa Pierno, CBF vice president for environmental protection and restoration. “We were taking individual legal actions here and there, but it really was down on the list as far as tools we would typically utilize, just because we didn’t have the resources and internally we didn’t have the staff to really focus on it.”
The new money will fund a position of litigation director who will coordinate efforts of the CBF’s own attorneys, as well as its work with outside attorneys, law school clinics and public interest law firms.
Pierno said litigation—and the knowledge that the group has the ability to press its concerns in court—should spur state and federal agencies to take the group’s concerns about enforcing environmental laws seriously.
“Litigation is still something you do after you try to find other solutions,” she added. “It still is not going to be something we do first. But when we feel that we have to take this action, I feel we will be far more productive.”
The CBF isn’t alone in considering lawsuits. The Maryland Watermen’s Association, fed up with pollution that has caused years of declining harvests, is considering a possible class action suit to demand faster cleanup of the Bay. Larry Simns, president of the 6,000-member group that represents commercial fishermen, said his organization is surveying support but has not decided whether it would file suit or whom it might sue.
The association sent letters to its members in July asking their opinions about legal action. He said he has received many phone calls since then supporting the idea.
Not everyone thinks the pace of the Bay cleanup will be quickened by going through a courtroom. “I’m not sure a lawsuit would make much of a difference,” said Richard Batiuk, associate director for science in the EPA’s Bay Program Office, “Cleaning up the Bay is a matter of changing people’s behavior, and getting them to think differently about the fertilizer they use and how they conduct their business.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.