Finding a way to pay for the multibillion dollar Bay cleanup will highlight the Chesapeake Executive Council meeting, scheduled to take place Jan. 10 at Mount Vernon.

Among the items on the council’s agenda will be adopting goals to remove barriers to fish migration, adopting a new management plan for native oysters and adopting new commitments to educate children about the Bay.

But most of the action—as was the case in the Council’s last meeting in December 2003—is likely to focus on paying for the Bay cleanup. Recent estimates have put the cost of fully implementing cleanup plans written by the states at $4.8 billion a year, although some reports suggest the job could be accomplished for significantly less.

At its last meeting, the Executive Council—which includes Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich, Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell, EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt, District of Columbia Mayor Anthony Williams and Chesapeake Bay Commission Chairman Sen. Lowell Stoltzfus of Maryland—announced plans for a special Blue Ribbon Finance Panel to explore financing options.

In a report released in October, the 15-member finance panel, chaired by former Virginia Gov. Gerald Baliles, recommended a radical new approach to cleaning up the Bay: a regional financing authority that would oversee a huge revolving loan fund to be capitalized with $12 billion in federal money and $3 billion in state funds (all paid in over a six-year period).

The authority would use the funds to make low-interest loans and, in some cases, outright grants to communities, farmers and others implementing nutrient control practices.

In addition, the panel’s report included more than two dozen other ideas, such as inviting the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to become a member of the Executive Council, and trying to leverage increased Farm Bill funding for the Bay region.

At its January meeting—rescheduled after plans for a Dec. 13 meeting could not be finalized—the council is expected to take the first steps toward establishing the watershedwide financing authority recommended by the Blue Ribbon Panel.

The first step would likely be to establish a committee to explore exactly how such an authority would operate, including state and federal regulatory or legislative changes that may be required, how it would raise and spend money, who would participate on the authority and how decisions would be made.

In addition, the council may act on several other items recommended by the panel. Among them:

  • A recommendation that the Executive Council be expanded to include the governors of New York, Delaware and West Virginia. Those three states have agreed to help achieve the nutrient reductions needed to clean up the Bay, but have never been full members of the Bay Program.
  • Starting a process to establish funding priorities for the Bay cleanup that make the best use of existing sources. Most of the cost of implementation stems from stormwater controls and septic system upgrades, which yield relatively small nutrient reduction benefits, while reductions from agriculture and wastewater treatment plant upgrades yield greater reductions at less cost.
  • Encouraging the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a major source of funding for programs that control farm runoff, to increase its participation in the Bay Program, including appointing a high-level official to participate in top Bay policy meetings. Agriculture is the largest single source of nutrients to the Bay, and is generally considered the least costly source to control.
  • Creating a workgroup to identify funding opportunities that could be promoted in the next version of the Farm Bill, to be written in 2007, which could help the Bay.
  • With a looming 2010 deadline for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, the state-federal Bay Program is under growing pressure from environmental groups and Congress to show how it intends to step up progress. Questions about its effectiveness have been part of two Congressional hearings in the past six months, and the U.S. Government Accountability Office is investigating its monitoring and modeling programs to determine whether they are accurately measuring cleanup progress.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation challenged the Executive Council, in a letter citing numerous missed cleanup deadlines, to “take leadership and show meaningful action” by agreeing to form the finance authority within six months and taking actions to fund it with new state and federal money.

Specifically, the environmental group called on the council to organize a Chesapeake Bay summit in the spring to bring together the president, key Congressional leaders, the Bay watershed Congressional delegation and the region’s governors “to underscore the need for $1 billion in federal funding in next year’s budget.”

In addition, it challenged the states to identify $250 million in new state funding for the coming year to show their willingness to provide a match for additional federal funds.

“Not taking action to save the Chesapeake Bay would present nothing less than a colossal failure to rescue a national treasure,” CBF President Will Baker said in the letter. “A road map for success already exists. It can be implemented and it enjoys broad public support.”

This year’s meeting will also mark the first time that a governor from Pennsylvania will be named to chair the Executive Council, as Rendell is expected to take over the helm from Warner.

About half of the Keystone State is in the Bay watershed, and—although it doesn’t border the Bay—the state is the largest single source of nutrient pollution to the Chesapeake, according to Bay Program estimates.

“Pennsylvania and its partners in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed remain committed to finding new and better ways to protect and preserve this priceless natural resource,” Rendell said in a statement.

“For more than two decades, the Chesapeake Executive Council has been an important voice in restoration efforts to protect a way of life for millions of residents who rely on the Bay and ensure greater benefits to all of those who enjoy its bounty and beauty,” he said. “Despite all of the progress we’ve made, a great deal more work remains to be done.”

The meeting is scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m. For information, visit the Bay Program’s web site at www.chesapeakebay.net