Hoping to influence policy by providing a unified regional front, more than 60 environmental groups launched a campaign in May to press Congress and the Obama administration to take greater actions to restore the Bay and the streams that feed it.
The Chesapeake Bay Watershed Coalition includes organizations from the District of Columbia and all six states that drain into the Bay, which represent hundreds of thousands of members.
"By coordinating our experiences, our expertise and our members, we will be able to speak with a clear, strong voice to make the tough choices that will give us clean water," said Tony Caligiuri, regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation. "We want results, and we will expect leadership, resources and effective implementation of programs from the officials in our federal, state and local governments."
The organization was officially unveiled at a meeting with members of Congress on May 20.
The coalition's first action was to launch a "Choose Clean Water Campaign," which will emphasize the need for stepped-up federal action to improve water quality.
It comes at an opportune time to push a regional clean water agenda. The Obama administration issued an executive order in May that makes the Chesapeake's restoration a priority, and individual states are promising to step up their efforts as well.
The coalition seeks to become an outside force to ensure those promises are met.
"For years, the Clean Water Act has offered the promise of cleaning up our waters," said Jan Jarrett, executive director of Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future. "We need to move from promises to results for the more than 900 rivers, streams and creeks that flow into the Chesapeake Bay."
The coalition is funded by several foundations and some of the participating organizations.
It is patterned after an effort in the Great Lakes, "Healing our Waters," which brings together more than 100 groups to promote a common agenda in Washington, and within their own states. The Obama administration's budget for 2010 includes $475 million for Great Lakes restoration, which had been sought by the coalition. It's now pushing for congressional approval of the funds.
Each year, members also come to Washington for two days to discuss issues and meet with their members of Congress. "They're very well-known in all of the Capital Hill offices," said Hilary Harp Falk, director of the Chesapeake coalition.
In contrast, there is little coordinated effort to influence federal action within the Bay watershed.
"Our coalition hopes to bring more people into the fold to work with Congress," Falk said.
While several organizations work on certain issues, there are only two full-time lobbyists working on Bay issues-both are in the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Washington Office.
"I think the potential of the coalition is enormous if we can tap into the members of all of the 60 or 70 coalitions and work toward a common goal," said Doug Siglin, federal affairs director for the CBF.
"From the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's point of view, we have a lot of strength in our membership, but there are places that we don't have that many members. If we can work with people from West Virginia or New York, areas where we have few members, that can be very helpful."
The coalition's membership includes national organizations such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Wildlife Federation, as well as local organizations such as Lynnhaven River NOW and the Friends of Dyke Marsh.
That breadth means it will have access to every member of Congress who represents part of the watershed.
The coalition has three initial issues to address:
- Influence the Surface Transportation Bill to promote water quality by requiring that all new construction and major retrofits of federal roads reduce or eliminate related stormwater runoff. It also would like increased support for public transit and intercity rail and funding policies that encourage redevelopment and "walkable communities."
- Increase the use of existing authority and request new authority for the EPA under the Clean Water Act to promote the Bay's restoration. It calls for greater efforts to control runoff from agriculture, stricter rules to govern runoff from development and an expanded permit program, among other actions, to speed the Bay's cleanup.
- Promote policies and legislation that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect resources that will be affected by climate change.
Working to influence federal laws and regulations will be a change for some coalition members, who may have historically focused on local streams.
"It's definitely new for some of them," Falk said. "Others have been working on the Bay, or at the very local level for years. But often, they haven't worked at the federal level."
An important aspect of the coalition is that it provides some access to Washington decision makers that small local groups would otherwise not have, said Skip Stiles, executive director of Wetlands Watch, which is based in Norfolk.
"As a small group working at the state and local level to protect wetlands, we benefit from federal wetlands programs and funding," Stiles said. "Until this coalition formed, we couldn't extend our reach to Washington, where those program and funding decisions are made."
For information about the coalition, visit www.choosecleanwater.org.