EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson signaled that the Bay will likely get a higher priority on the agency's agenda by naming a former EPA and Maryland official as her senior adviser on the Chesapeake Bay and Anacostia River.
J. Charles "Chuck" Fox, who headed EPA water programs during the Clinton administration and was later the Maryland secretary of natural resources, will report directly to Jackson with advice regarding Bay restoration efforts.
Although EPA administrators typically have senior advisers who deal with specific issues, this is the first time one has been named to deal with Bay issues.
"I think everyone knows very well that the Bay Program has fallen short of meeting its goals, and I think inherent in this appointment is a desire on Administrator Jackson's part to try to improve the performance of the Bay Program," Fox said.
He is based at the EPA's Chesapeake Bay Program Office in Annapolis, but Jeff Lape, who has been director of the office since early 2007, will continue in that position. "My job is to be a part of this team, and contribute to this team to deliver results," Fox said.
Fox said he would make recommendations to Jackson about how to improve the effectiveness of the Chesapeake cleanup effort, but not before meeting with other program partners.
"The nature of this program is one that decisions about future management actions are made collectively," he said. "I want to respect that process. But I think overall there is unanimity that the Bay Program is not succeeding in meeting some of its fundamental goals for water quality and that we need to really think about new approaches and various new tools to try to improve its performance."
Fox said it was too early to predict what changes may be in store, but said recommendations "could include policy changes, investment changes of federal state funding, and they could include regulatory changes."
The Bay Program is a partnership created in 1983 among the EPA; the states of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania; the District of Columbia and the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which represents state legislatures. Since it was established, though, the program has repeatedly set-and missed-many goals for restoring the Bay and its resources.
Fox has sometimes been among its critics, saying in the past that it provided misleading optimistic information to the public in its reports by presenting computer model results that showed improving Bay conditions rather than actual monitoring data, which showed little change.
In December, Fox told the Washington Post that the Bay Program lacked a viable cleanup plan for the Chesapeake. Although the Bay Program had nutrient reduction goals and the states developed "tributary strategies" designed to meet the goals, those documents never provided details about how they would actually be implemented.
Fox said those problems were being addressed. The Bay Program has overhauled the way it presents information to the public, and there is a growing consensus among state and federal agencies that the implementation of pollution control programs must be improved.
In fact, he said there is a unique "alignment of the stars" among state and federal leaders that could set the stage for a "great leap forward" in Bay restoration. "The enthusiasm today for doing this right seems to be very very high," Fox said. But, he cautioned, "this won't happen overnight. It will take time. There will be bumps along the way."
Fox said accountability in the Bay cleanup effort needed to be improved, and as part of that, both federal and state agencies need to look at ways to better enforce existing laws and regulations.
For example, he said, stormwater permits for larger urban areas could include more specific requirements and goals. "There are some model [stormwater] permits that have been developed recently, but we aren't yet in a situation where these models are being replicated throughout the watershed, and that is something we certainly need to look at."
But Fox did say his appointment likely foreshadows a greater role by the federal government. "I think we are at a point where the EPA needs to consider exerting more of a leadership role in helping to define some of these policy responses to the challenges that we face, whether it is new guidance documents, new policies or potentially new regulations."
The role of the EPA is already evolving. Because of the failure to restore the Bay, it is under a court order to produce a new cleanup plan, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load, by May 2011. While the agency is using input from other jurisdictions in developing the plan, officials have said the ultimate document - which they say could be a model for others - is the EPA's responsibility, not the Bay Program partnership.
As EPA assistant administrator for water, Fox oversaw an extensive rewrite of the agency's TMDL rules that would have required timetables for cleanups and more details about how plans would be implemented, as well as restricted new discharges into polluted waterways. Although the rules were approved by the EPA, Congress blocked their implementation and they were eventually abandoned by the Bush administration.
Based on his past work, Fox said "I have a lot of ideas" for the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, but said he wanted to meet with other Bay Program participants before making any specific proposals.
"I need to see to the extent to which some of the ideas that I do have actually fit within the context of the partners' thinking and the future of the program," he said. "But you don't work in this field for 25 years and not have some ideas."
Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William Baker said the the appointment of Fox was an indication that the agency "may be serious about reducing pollution to the Bay."
The environmental group, where Fox previously worked, is suing the EPA, saying the agency has failed to use of all of the authority at its disposal to meet Bay cleanup deadlines.
"I have worked closely with Chuck for nearly 30 years and I know that there is no one more committed to saving the Chesapeake Bay," Baker said in a statement. "We hope that Chuck will be able to help the new administration make real progress in protecting and restoring this national treasure."
Fox has held a variety of environmental positions in the region since graduating from the University of Wisconsin in Madison with a degree in urban geography in 1983. Prior to joining the EPA in 1997, he worked with several environmental groups, including American Rivers, Friends of the Earth and the Environmental Policy Institute, as well as with the Maryland Department of the Environment. He has also worked at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and most recently was a senior officer of The Pew Charitable Trust, managing its marine conservation programs.
"I am excited about this job," Fox said of his new position. "The Bay has been a passion of mine all of my life, and I really think that we are at a very unique time in the Bay Program's history right now. There is a higher degree of awareness of the challenges than there has ever been. There is a higher degree of policy maker commitment to improving things than I have seen in 25 years. And I think there is today a much more sophisticated understanding of precisely what needs to be done to meet our objectives."