, May 12, 2009 (ENS) – President Barack Obama signed an executive order today creating a Federal Leadership Committee for the Chesapeake Bay to be chaired by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The committee will manage new plans by a team of seven federal agencies to strengthen and bring accountability to efforts to protect and restore the nation's largest estuary.
At a meeting today of the Chesapeake Bay Program Executive Council at Mount Vernon, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson presented the executive order. Declaring Chesapeake Bay to be a national treasure, the order strengthens the federal commitment to restoring the estuary.
Bald eagles on the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail (Photo by Sean McCandless courtesy Chesapeake Bay Foundation)
The Executive Order requires development of a climate change strategy for the bay, reduction of water pollution from federal property, improving agricultural conservation practices, and expanding public access to the bay.
"This executive order is a strong signal of the President's commitment to restoring this national treasure, which is so vital to the environment, the local economies, and the way of life for millions of people," said Jackson. "We are bringing the full weight of this partnership to bear on this challenge, and I am extraordinarily hopeful about what we can accomplish working together."
Instead of pursuing a distant deadline, the seven Bay jurisdictions - Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia, New York and the District of Columbia - will now focus on short, two-year goals for reducing pollution, with the first milestone set for December 31, 2011.
Watershed-wide, the rate of progress in reducing nitrogen will accelerate by 77 percent, for a projected reduction of 15.8 million pounds. The rate of progress in reducing phosphorus will increase by 79 percent, for a projected reduction of 1.1 million pounds. By meeting biennial milestones, the plan calls for all pollution control measures to be in place no later than 2025.
"We have charted a new course for the Chesapeake Bay's recovery that will succeed because it includes the short-term goals necessary to make steady progress and is backed by federal and state leaders who share a profound conviction to protect our environment," said Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine, who chairs the Executive Council. "It is our obligation to invest in clean water for communities today and future generations."
Jackson said the new plan calls for EPA to work with state partners to develop a bay-wide total maximum daily load, TMDL, by December 2010 that will assign strict pollution caps to meet existing Chesapeake Bay water quality standards.
The TMDL will identify the total pollution caps necessary to meet federal clean water standards and allocate pollution budgets to the states.
Family swims in Chesapeake Bay at Virginia's First Landing State Park. (Photo by Dena Clavier)
The allocations will be used to develop detailed state action plans that will be supported by two-year commitments and accountability provisions with federal consequences for lagging performance.
The EPA will identify actions to make full use of Clean Water Act tools, including strengthening existing permit programs and extending coverage where necessary. The agency will implement a compliance and enforcement strategy to ensure that regulated entities follow the rule of law.
Public participation in the TMDL process is welcome, including a first round of public meetings this summer.
The new plan requires sharp reductions in air pollutants that impact the bay, and it offers funding support as well as scientific and technical assistance.
Federal agencies will create action reports to be integrated into a draft federal strategy within 180 days. The federal strategy will include annual commitments and progress reports and periodic reviews by an independent evaluator.
"Partners of the Chesapeake Bay Program have launched an ambitious new course to restore the Chesapeake Bay and, most importantly, to hold ourselves accountable for progress," said Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley.
"We are also calling on our citizens to work at the local level to improve water quality by reducing pollution from their property and neighborhoods," O'Malley said, calling on the region's 17 million residents to participate. "Each of us reaps the benefits of this magnificent estuary, and each of us has a responsibility to contribute to its recovery."
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has been collecting residents' stories and placing them online. People's experiences differ widely, but all have a common theme - unacceptable levels of pollution.
Orange acid mine drainage pollutes a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. (Photo courtesy Chesapeake Bay Foundation)
"I live on the Patapsco River in Anne Arundel County between Rock and Bodkin Points. Slag, coal and coke from Sparrows Point routinely wash up on our shores, as does trash from upstream. And that's just the pollutants we CAN see!," said one resident.
"I live on the Chesapeake and every day, I walk on the beach. I see the debris along the tide line...everything from construction materials to landscaping fabric...devastating to our ecosystem and something must be done to control this human carelessness!" said another.
"The Shamokin Creek is polluted with acid mine drainage. There are over 60 discharges throughout the watershed, with each discharge having unique properties. Iron, manganese, aluminum, sulphur and low pH are found in unacceptable levels," another resident said.
Federal and state agencies are asking the public to help reduce pollution by taking simple actions, such as not fertilizing lawns, installing rain barrels and rain gardens, planting native trees, picking up pet waste and volunteering for watershed groups.
Through American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 commitments and a record budget request, EPA will finance projects throughout the watershed to advance restoration of the bay. Last week's $35.1 million budget proposal for the Chesapeake Bay Program for FY 2010 is the largest ever requested by an administration.
States in the watershed have begun to approve Clean Water State Revolving Fund awards from the Recovery Act to reduce water pollution impacting the bay and its tributaries.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.
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