A call for bay cleanup reform

Academics, politicians criticize current efforts, declaring need for overhaul

The Capital, December 08, 2008

Calling the current Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort "fatally flawed," a group of scientists, academics and retired politicians declared the need for an overhaul with more teeth during a news conference in Annapolis this morning.

They said the largely voluntary effort needs to be replaced with strict limits on pollution with tough penalties. All 16 participants signed a detailed statement outlining steps to make the bay cleanup a success.

While none of the men are household names, they hold some sway within the bay cleanup circles. Some have spent their careers working hand-in-hand with the federal-state Chesapeake Bay Program. Others have been observers and chroniclers of the cleanup effort.

The group included University of Maryland scientists and professors; former politicians such as U.S. Sen. Joe Tydings, state Sen. Bernie Fowler and state Sen. Gerald Winegrad; bay authors Tom Horton and Dr. Howard Ernst; and others.

"We are failing to accomplish what we set out to do 25 years ago … we need action now. We need no more sliding," said Dr. Walter Boynton, professor at University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

Statement from Chesapeake Bay experts on cleanup

Read details from experts on the bay cleanup.

Their statement read in part:

"We must transition from the voluntary collaborative approach in place for 25 years to a more comprehensive regulatory program that would establish mandatory, enforceable measures for meeting the nutrient, sediment, and toxic chemical reductions needed to remove all bay waters from the Clean Water Act impaired waters list."

They listed six steps to take:

Reduce pollution from each person in the watershed.

Change development patterns and make sure there is no net loss of forests or wetlands.

Require - rather than encourage - pollution controls on farms.

Improve management of fisheries in the bay.

Require pollution reductions on a river-by-river basis.

Give the bay priority when it comes to federal funding, enforcing federal laws and developing a new "organizational structure" for bay cleanup.

"These measures should be fully implemented and enforced so our children can safely swim, fish and enjoy the bay as their grandparents once did," the statement read.

Although more people are realizing that the Chesapeake Bay Program isn't achieving its goals, it still can be touchy for some to criticize the official effort. So to be careful, they added a disclaimer to the statement, saying they're only representing themselves, not their institutions.

The statement and recommendations grew out of a meeting that was held quietly last week in Annapolis. Participants voiced concerns about the lack of progress in cleaning up the bay and brainstormed solutions.

Though efforts have been under way to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay for ages, the bay has been a key focus for scientists and public officials for the last 25 years. Despite the quarter-century of work, however, the bay remains sadly degraded.

The bay is on the list of the nation's "impaired waters." As the result of a 1990s Clean Water Act lawsuit, the federal government and the states agreed to work together to get the bay off that list by 2010 - but officials have acknowledged that isn't likely going to happen.

The group made its statement at Carrol's Creek restaurant in Eastport, just steps away from the headquarters office of the EPA's Chesapeake Bay Program, which coordinates the multi-state cleanup effort.

The timing was significant, as well. Tomorrow marks the 25th anniversary of the beginning of the current bay cleanup effort.

Jeff Lape, director of the Chesapeake Bay Program, attended the event and accepted a copy of the statement.

"There's been a clear acknowledgement by us all that despite good work the bay's health is not where it needs to be," he said.

(Revised December 2008)