The president-elect of the United States, Barack Obama, will have enormous power to help or hurt our fight to save the Chesapeake Bay. We all need to be part of a campaign to encourage him to help.

If anyone doubts the crucial role the president and his cabinet play in the health of the nation's largest estuary, witness the last eight years as proof.

In the 1980s and 1990s, momentum for cleaning up the Bay was building. The Chesapeake 2000 agreement for the first time laid out specific commitments to reduce pollution.

Then the Bush administration's EPA pulled the rug out from underneath this interstate agreement by undermining clean air and water laws and abrogating its responsibility as lead federal agency. Over the last eight years, the EPA has not only been missing as a leader. It has been a negative partner.

The Chesapeake Bay is a great example of why we need an active federal government. No state alone can stop the pollution that flows from six states and 64,000 square miles of watershed.

Even Bay state leaders are calling for a stronger federal push. At a meeting in September of the EPA and state officials, Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources L. Preston Bryant said state officials were "almost begging" the federal government to threaten significant penalties for failing to meet water quality standards. "Scare me, EPA," Secretary Bryant said. "Threaten me sufficiently so that I can then turn around to our state budget writers and scare them."

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation shares this sense of frustration. And that is why we, three signatories of Bay agreements, a former secretary of natural resources, a sport fishing organization and two watermen's associations, recently filed a notice of intent to sue the EPA to force the federal government to take aggressive action.

The CBF recently released a blueprint of 16 specific actions that the next administration must take to save the Bay. The report, called "Restoring Clean Water and the Chesapeake Bay: A Plan for America's Next President," is available at www.cbf.org. These recommendations, if adopted, will usher in a new era of clean water, not only for the Chesapeake Bay, but for rivers, streams, lakes and estuaries from coast to coast.

Most importantly, the goals of the Chesapeake 2000 agreement will never be met without the EPA setting enforceable caps on the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution that can enter the Bay and its rivers. These caps are required by the federal Clean Water Act as part of the Baywide Total Maximum Daily Load that the EPA is developing. The TMDL must also include strict deadlines and strong penalties for failing to meet these caps.

Other strategies laid out in the CBF's blueprint include directing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to target funding for farm runoff control programs to pollution hot spots, such as Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, Pennsylvania's lower Susquehanna River basin and the Delmarva peninsula. And government must establish linkages between federal crop subsidies and the achievement of environmental protection requirements.

The next administration must also strengthen the authority of the EPA to stop large construction projects that threaten to add more pollution to waterways already listed as impaired, such as the Chesapeake Bay.

Other steps the next administration should take include:

  • Stimulating the economy by investing $10 billion nationally every year in sewage system improvements through a new Clean Water Infrastructure Trust Fund.
  • Creating stringent guidelines to end polluted runoff from construction sites and highways.
  • Passing a new federal wetlands protection law and air pollution limits for power plants to fill regulatory gaps left by recent court decisions such as the Rapanos wetlands case and Clean Air Interstate Rule.

Every reader of the Bay Journal cares deeply about the health of the Chesapeake Bay. We urge each of you to communicate these priorities to President-elect Obama by e-mailing the head of his transition team, John Podesta, and his adviser on environmental issues, David J. Hayes. Encourage others to do so, as well. Messages can be sent via www.change.gov.

We know the president-elect has a strong interest in the Great Lakes, and we applaud him for that. But if the nation's estuary is to become a model of clean water and healthy fisheries, dramatic change at the federal level is required right here.

We must raise our voices loudly and repeatedly. We must let every elected official who represents us know that we are outraged by government's failure to reduce the pollution to the levels of ecological balance that science has set. We must write to our local newspapers, hold rallies and house parties to organize ourselves, and vote for candidates at all levels of government who put a priority on the environment.

Let's begin, here in the White House's back yard, the biggest and loudest fight for clean water this nation has ever seen. One thing is for certain. If we do not, there is no chance for the Bay and it rivers. But if we can sustain a massive, viral campaign to force our government to follow the science, we just might give our grandchildren something for which they can be proud.