In the end, it was a custom-made crab cracker, made from the wood of the Pride of Baltimore, and a crab baseball hat that sealed the transition. On June 8 at the annual meeting of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Executive Council, Gov. Terry McAuliffe officially handed over the chairmanship of the Council to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.
“As the newly elected chair of the Executive Council, I pledge to be a fierce advocate for greater environmental progress and deeper collaboration upstream and throughout the Bay watershed,” said Hogan, while reminding McAuliffe that although Chesapeake Bay blue crabs may be born in Virginia, they quickly hightail it back to Maryland.
He takes the reins of the Executive Council, a regional body made up of the governors of the six Chesapeake Bay watershed states, the mayor of the District of Columbia, the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the chair of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, at a critical tipping point for Bay restoration.
On one hand, we are seeing signs of resilience that haven’t been realized in years. As noted by Professor Walter Boynton in his opening remarks, dissolved nutrient concentrations in most major rivers entering the Bay are decreasing, a major accomplishment given that both human and livestock populations are increasing. Plus, nutrients from wastewater treatment facilities are not only declining but are way ahead of schedule. And don’t forget that water clarity is beginning to show improvement in some areas of the Bay after decades of decline. Meanwhile, underwater grasses, a sensitive indicator of good water quality, have been expanding in the Bay; last year their coverage was three times what it was in the 1980s. All of this is good news, for sure. The restoration work championed by the Chesapeake Bay Program partnership for the last 34 years is working.
On the other hand comes the sobering news that the Fiscal Year 2018 Presidential Budget allotted the Chesapeake Bay Program approximately a zero budget. This news led the Executive Council meeting to focus on only one topic — the power of the partnership.
On a typical year, members gather to set goals and the policy direction for the Chesapeake Bay Program or to sign directives or agreements. But this year, council members — or designees — came to Annapolis on a sunny June day to put their signatures on a resolution that calls upon President Trump and the U.S. Congress to continue the current level of federal support for the Bay Program and its participating partners for the restoration of the Chesapeake, including the active coordinating role of the program.
The resolution also calls for science, monitoring, modeling and restoration to continue to be undertaken with the full participation of local, state and federal agencies, and private sector entities as appropriate.
The signatories of this resolution — the governors of Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, the chair of the Chesapeake Bay Commission and the mayor of the District of Columbia — are expected to distribute this resolution to the president, members of Congress and other supporters of the partnership. The EPA, prohibited from advocacy and lobbying under federal law, did not sign this resolution.
It wasn’t only the Executive Council members that spoke out in favor of continued funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program partnership; the citizen, local government and scientific representatives of the Bay Program were also on hand to speak out publicly in favor of the partnership.
“Now is not the time to roll back our focus on restoration as proposed by the president’s budget,” said Paula Jasinski, chair of the Chesapeake Bay Program Citizens’ Advisory Committee. “Doing so would effectively waste all of our investments made to date and jeopardize the trust that citizens impart to governments to protect them from pollution. We hear from states and localities and know they cannot make up the difference or even maintain current efforts without continued federal commitments.”
Attention will continue to be on the Bay Program in the coming months, not only to keep an eye on the Fiscal Year 2018 budget, but also because 2017 is the year of the midpoint assessment, where each jurisdiction will be evaluated on the progress they are making toward achieving their 2025 goals under the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load.
At this year’s Executive Council meeting, we celebrated the power of the partnership and marveled at the signs of resilience that we are seeing throughout the watershed. But at next year’s meeting, the true power of this partnership will be realized firsthand as we mark the halfway point of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL and applaud the hard work and dedication of our partners who work tirelessly alongside us every day to protect and restore our Bay.
The views expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect those of the Bay Journal.