Last fall, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson claimed that the Chesapeake Bay was “a priority for President Bush.” Recent events provide irrefutable evidence to the contrary.
First came the administration’s 2007 budget proposal, which sliced $33 million from funding directed at Bay restoration and cut a whopping $212 million from the nationwide Clean Water State Revolving Fund for sewage treatment plant improvements.
Last month brought further proof that the federal government is bailing out on its commitment to bring back the Chesapeake Bay, the nation’s largest estuary and a true national treasure. On March 8, the EPA announced a “revised strategic plan” for 2006-2011 that effectively settles for almost no progress in achieving the improvements mandated by the Chesapeake 2000 agreement. Citing numbers that show little movement toward the agreement’s goals, the EPA has scaled back its targets for reducing nutrients and increasing dissolved oxygen and underwater grasses.
The new targets are based on a business-as-usual approach that projects that we will be far from reaching the 2010 deadline for water quality improvement. In fact, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s analysis of the EPA data reveals that key indicators of dissolved oxygen and Bay grasses may in fact be worse in 2010 than they were just four years ago.
Federal law requires the EPA to develop measurable, achievable goals as part of its five-year strategic plan. The goals of the newly revised draft plan, though, are so modest that they’re virtually meaningless. The part of the plan addressing the Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts estimates that, under current trends, the Bay’s health will continue to suffer.
The EPA’s plan is more than a disappointment—it’s a confirmation that the federal government is content to shrug its shoulders and admit what the CBF first warned in 2003: The current status quo is insufficient to meet the goals of Chesapeake 2000. Instead of focusing its efforts on fulfilling its commitments, the agency has chosen to simplify the goals.
What’s far more disturbing is that the EPA’s revised plan shows that the agency and the Bush administration have decided to abrogate its responsibility as a partner in the effort to restore the Bay. It’s time to acknowledge the EPA and the administration’s failings, develop a plan and allocate funding sufficient to meet its commitments.
Certainly, any plan to improve the Chesapeake’s water quality cannot be successful without the involvement of all partners, including the states. In recent years, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania have begun to step up to the plate with legislation and funding to save the Bay. But the states cannot go it alone. The federal government must take a leadership role.
What is undeniable is that scientifically developed solutions for the Bay’s problems do exist. They simply await funding. The EPA claims that it’s dedicated to making those changes happen, but its “revised strategy” proves otherwise. We call on the Bush administration to follow the states’ lead and be the full partners they have promised—and claimed—to be.