Twenty-five years. That's how long it has been since the first Chesapeake Bay Agreement was signed.
The Executive Council signed a second agreement in 1987 pledging to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution by 40 percent by 2000. In spite of "sound science" dictating the 40 percent reduction, the goal was immediately and significantly diluted by calling some pollution "uncontrollable." Air pollution was labeled as such. Nevertheless, the goal was still missed, by a significant margin.
Now there is the third agreement, Chesapeake 2000, with new commitments to new goals-once again citing sound science.
For the last several months, we have been hearing that the 175 million pound cap on nitrogen pollution-what Chesapeake 2000 promised to deliver and what science tells us is the most the Bay can tolerate-will not be met. Current programs and funding will not achieve a reduction of an average annual nitrogen pollution load of 110 million pounds.
As Yogi Berra once said, this "feels like deja vu all over again"-goals and commitments made then diluted.
After an extraordinary "special session" in Maryland when the governor and General Assembly launched a new Bay restoration initiative-creating the Chesapeake Bay 2010 Trust Fund-and Gov. Martin O'Malley led the Executive Council meeting with his goal of having the programs and funding in place by the end of 2010 to meet his state's portion of Chesapeake 2000, Maryland is retreating, proposing to halve the amount of the fund.
In Virginia, Gov. Tim Kaine hailed the uniqueness of the leadership provided by the Agriculture and Conservation Partnership for Water Quality (a 10-member coalition of farming and conservation groups) and the General Assembly created The Virginia Natural Resources Commitment Fund for agricultural conservation practices. But now, the partnership's call for a dedicated funding source upon which farmers can rely for annual implementation of clean water practices has been rejected.
In Pennsylvania, local governments are lining up to sue the state to stop the implementation of pollution reduction limits at sewage treatment plants because the state failed to develop a comprehensive plan for cost-share assistance as was provided in Maryland and Virginia.
Deja vu all over again. Words spoken commitments made, goals set...and then, dilution and retreat.
Polls show overwhelmingly that the region's voters believe the Bay can be saved, want it saved-and are willing to pay to save it. Apparently, our elected officials are not listening.
Perhaps they will wish they had, come 2010. If we do not meet the Chesapeake 2000 water quality goals, extraordinary and possibly cripplingly expensive measures may have to be taken. What if there was a moratorium on all new development because the Bay simply cannot tolerate more pollution from new sources? What if governments turn their backs on the region's farmers and regulate them under the full weight of the law? What if no new industry or business was allowed to locate in the watershed because of increased pollution loadings violating federal regulations?
There is still time to get on track. We can continue to upgrade sewage treatment plants on a timely basis; we can fund agricultural conservation practices and provide constant, reliable dollars, targeting those practices and places that yield the greatest pollution reductions; we can better manage stormwater, putting pollution limits in permits; we can require power plants to install state-of-the-art technology and move toward "clean car" technology now; and we can retrofit existing buildings to be more energy efficient. Steps such as these will set us on the path to achieve the 2010 water quality goals.
And they can create "green collar" jobs and put money into local economies.
The choice is clear for our leaders: They can meet their commitments, accelerate pollution reduction and invest in clean water. Or, they can burden voters with the consequences of tightened restrictions and regulations on how they live and do business.
I vote for a new view, not a deja vu.