July 12, 2011
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - An ambitious plan to restore the Chesapeake Bay by 2025 is off to a positive start, with the first round of pollution control reductions on target, the Environmental Protection Agency announced Monday.
EPA administrator Lisa Jackson said the reductions, primarily from sewage plant improvements, are a significant milestone in the effort "to protect and restore the Chesapeake."
"Ultimately we've come together on the federal, state and local levels as never before," Jackson told governors and District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray.
The news was delivered at the annual meeting of the Chesapeake Executive Council, which establishes the policy agenda for the Chesapeake Bay Program.
Jeff Corbin, the EPA's senior adviser on the bay's restoration, delivered the interim report on cleanup targets established in 2009 for the six states in the bay watershed and the District of Columbia. The states are Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York.
The numbers reflect progress in achieving pollution-reduction goals at the two-thirds mark of the first two-year milestone. Some states made more progress than others but collectively they are moving forward in cleaning up the 64,000-square-mile watershed, Corbin said.
The EPA is directing the restoration of the nation's largest estuary after years of inaction by the states. The bay has been in steady decline because of pollution and runoff from farmland and the hard urban surfaces created by the 17 million people who live within its watershed.
The pollution has created dead zones devoid of life and virtually wiped out the native oyster. The bay's blue crab population has rebounded over the past few years, primarily because of measures to limit its catch.
While every speaker applauded the goals of the restoration, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell raised the question of the ultimate price tag. Virginia has estimated the cost of its measures at $7 billion to $8 billion through 2025.
"What we all discussed candidly is how it this going to be paid for," McDonnell said after a closed luncheon with Jackson and other members of the council. "We don't want to set goals and then set ourselves up for failure."
McDonnell said he is seeking a better understanding of how much costs state and local governments will have to shoulder for the bay's cleanup.
"Otherwise the multi-multi-billion price tag of this very honorable goal will be such that we won't have a plan or we just fall short," he said.
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley praised his state for nearly reaching its 2011 milestones and urged officials to stick with the pollution-reduction goals.
"Cleaning up the bay is expensive," he said. "Letting her die is even more expensive, and we're not going to allow that to happen."
O'Malley said Maryland is 98 percent of the way to reaching the 2011 milestones for nitrogen and phosphorus reductions. The two pollutants come from sources such as a fertilizer, animal waste and auto and power plant emissions.
Jackson, who did not address the funding questions raised by McDonnell, said earlier she understood the difficult budget realities faced by the states.
A key message of the council meeting stressed the importance of individual actions of individuals in making a difference in the bay's health. They include water conservation, reductions in lawn-care products and the purchase of rain barrels to collect water for lawns and gardens.
"Actions by government at the federal, state and local level will not be sufficient - it will take each and every one of us doing our part," Jackson said.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett also attended the Richmond meeting.