In 1984, President Ronald Reagan called the Chesapeake Bay a national treasure and committed the federal government to the “long, necessary effort” to restore it.
Six years ago this month, state and federal officials signed the Chesapeake 2000 agreement, making a public commitment to improve water quality to a level that would allow the Chesapeake Bay and its tributary rivers to be removed from the Clean Water Act’s list of impaired waters by 2010.
As recently as last November, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson publicly declared the Chesapeake Bay “a priority for President Bush.”
What we have since seen and heard from the Bush administration does not deliver on Johnson’s rhetoric and flies in the face of President Reagan’s commitment, which was renewed by the first Bush administration and again by the Clinton administration. Faced with the reality that the current rate of implementation is far too little to fulfill the 2010 commitments, the EPA is backing away from Bay restoration goals. They appear to be giving up.
Despite early warnings from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and others that the Bay would remain impaired without a dramatic increase in the pace of restoration, the federal government has failed to live up to its own promises as a full partner in saving the Bay.
Their solution? Simply reduce goals, rather than increase efforts. Under a new strategic plan, for example, the EPA would accept the status quo and commit to achieving only 63 percent of the original goal for dissolved oxygen.
To add insult to injury, the president’s 2007 budget proposes to reduce funding for the Bay cleanup by $33 million overall. The reductions in money for Bay-specific programs are exacerbated by a nationwide reduction of more than $200 million for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which provides matching funds to states for upgrades to sewage treatment plants. This cut makes the task of reducing nitrogen pollution even more difficult.
There is some good news—the states have begun to step up to the plate. The budget currently before the Virginia General Assembly includes $257 million to reduce pollution from sewage treatment plants and to assist agriculture with greater funding for conservation programs. Maryland’s flush fee is generating funding necessary to upgrade sewage treatment plants and the newly passed Healthy Air Act will significantly reduce pollution from power plant emissions. Pennsylvania’s Growing Greener Initiative has invested millions of dollars to reduce pollution and protect agricultural lands in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
But we need to do more. The states, too, must redouble their efforts to restore the Bay and its rivers.
Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine recently delivered a speech in which he boldly asserted, “The reality is that Virginia’s effort to meet those commitments has often been an exercise in procrastination…but that doesn’t mean that we should give up, and we won’t….We must work with our federal partners to ensure that the Chesapeake Bay is treated like the national treasure that it is.”
Governor Kaine’s Assistant Secretary of Natural Resources, Jeff Corbin, underscored the commonwealth’s position after reviewing the EPA’s strategic plan. “Given the commitment by Governor Kaine to start winning and stop losing, I cannot support the current EPA strategic plan as drafted.”
Nor can the CBF accept such a plan. To do so is to accept defeat. The clock is ticking ever more loudly toward the 2010 deadline. But the CBF will not concede failure. There is no valid reason to do so. The science of saving the Bay is precise; the technology is available; and the public support is overwhelming. What remains in short supply is the political will to get the job done.
President Bush and Administrator Johnson, where are you really on saving the Bay?