Bay-Area Leaders Pledge New Commitment to Flagging Chesapeake Cleanup - Southern Maryland Headline News

Bay-Area Leaders Pledge New Commitment to Flagging Chesapeake Cleanup

By KENNETH R. FLETCHER, Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS (Dec. 11, 2007) - Leaders of Chesapeake Bay-area governments conceded last Wednesday that they are unlikely to meet bay restoration goals by 2010, but pledged to ramp up their efforts to do so.

"No we are not going to hit it by 2010," Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley said at the meeting of the Chesapeake Executive Council, which includes governors of six states in the bay watershed and the mayor of Washington.

"Today we pledge to accelerate our efforts to have the remaining programs and policies in place by 2010" to meet the Chesapeake goals soon afterward, said O'Malley, who was elected 2008 council chair on Wednesday.

The Annapolis meeting drew the governors of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, representatives from Delaware and West Virginia, and officials from the Environmental Protection agency and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

According to a report presented to the council Wednesday by the EPA, goals for bay pollution reduction by 2010 that were set forth by the Chesapeake states in a 2000 agreement cannot be met at the current pace.

The Chesapeake Bay Program said so far it has met 44 percent of nitrogen, 60 percent of phosphorous and 57 percent of sediment reduction goals.

Besides pledging their own states to the effort, the governors also said they would urge their congressional delegations to push for legislation that provides federal funding for Chesapeake restoration.

William Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, told the council during its closed-door meeting that specific nitrogen-pollution reduction goals should be set.

Council members did promote reducing runoff from farms as the cheapest and most effective way to reduce bay pollution, but did not make any specific pledges.

"We would have liked to have seen a commitment to put a significant dollar amount on the table to help farmers reduce pollution from agricultural land," Baker said.

More expensive work also needs to be done to reduce urban pollution through techniques like stormwater management, the council said. That includes an $800 million upgrade to Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant in the District, the largest single source of bay pollution.

Despite the lack of commitments Wednesday, Baker said the current group of political leaders, who will all be in office for several years, shows real promise in working together for the Chesapeake.

"I'm encouraged by the level of engagement and enthusiasm that is new to the executive council," Baker said.

The political leaders championed their efforts to clean up the bay, but said that a lot more should have been done in the past.

"There's no question that some of the states, and possibly all of us, were a little slow in getting started," said Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell. "There's no question that the funding lags."

O'Malley championed Maryland's new BayStat program as a way to provide insight and accountability to the bay restoration goals. O'Malley launched the program, with data accessible online, earlier this year to track pollution and bay restoration efforts from various sources to provide a comprehensive picture of the Chesapeake.

With the BayStat program, O'Malley said regular biweekly goals are set and monthly meetings are held between the governor and state officials.

"It's easy to declare a goal 10 years from now," when the politicians who set the agreement would be out of office, O'Malley said. The council agreed that accountability would be an important part of cleaning up the Chesapeake.

When asked about the continuing failure of governments to clean up the bay, O'Malley said he worries "all the time that we lose faith in one another."

Now is a "very important crossroads in the history of the bay," O'Malley said. "It's important to declare 2008 a year of revival and a year of recommitment. Failure is not an option. We have to move forward."

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