WASHINGTON, DC, November 13, 2009 (ENS) – The Obama administration says “expanded action and increased accountability by the federal government” are the focus of a draft strategy for restoring and protecting the Chesapeake Bay as required by President Barack Obama’s Executive Order issued in May
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will set pollution limits for nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment entering the bay and require area governments to meet goals every two years.
U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said, “This is the broadest and most publicly accountable cleanup effort ever seen on the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed. It’s time for a new era of decisive federal leadership, and new partnerships with state government, nonprofits, the private sector and residents who have all been working to create a cleaner Bay.”
The draft strategy, released Monday, contains a package of federal initiatives to restore clean water, conserve treasured places, protect fish and wildlife, and adapt to the impacts of climate change, said Jackson.
These objectives will be accomplished by “empowering local efforts, making decisions based on science and forging a new era of federal leadership and accountability,” the strategy states, adding that close collaboration of efforts with the six states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and the District of Columbia will be critical.
To accelerate efforts and track progress, federal agencies are committing to meet milestones every two years, leading to all activities needed to restore the Chesapeake Bay and watershed being in place no later than 2025.
Public comment on the draft strategy is important to the federal agencies and will shape the final strategy, Jackson said. The formal public comment period is from November 9, 2009 to January 8, 2010.
The initial comments from environmental groups were critical.
“What the bay desperately needs is strong, federal leadership to hold all polluters accountable. What we saw today was the EPA taking a step backward and not reaping the full potential of this new process,” said Tommy Landers, policy advocate for the nonprofit Environment Maryland.
“What a let-down,” said Tom Pelton of the nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “I had hoped that it would be a strong example of new federal leadership.”
But Pelton criticized the draft proposal because “it lacks specific goals, deadlines, programs and strategies.”
“The vagueness of this new federal draft plan really underscores the need for Congress to pass a new law that would make the requirements for Bay cleanup clear and indisputable,” Pelton said.
The environmentalists are placing their hopes for a cleaner Chesapeake Bay with legislation introduced last month by Senator Ben Cardin and Congressman Elijah Cummings, the Chesapeake Clean Water and Ecosystem Restoration Act. This measure would impose legally-binding pollution reduction targets on bay area states. The bill is now working its way through committees of the House and Senate.
EPA advisor for the bay, J. Charles Fox, says that bay area states told the EPA that they do not want the federal government to just impose new federal regulations for animal-intensive agriculture and municipal stormwater runoff.
Instead, the states want a chance to create regulations themselves to address these problems, Fox told participants in a teleconference Monday. If the states fail to act, then federal pollution control regulations will be imposed, he said.
“The states believe they have a lot of local knowledge,” Fox said. “And they would like the first shot at meeting the new regulatory regimes, and we are willing to work with them.”
“Our proposed initiative will build upon the existing partnerships with states, local communities, conservation organizations and other stakeholders to undertake projects that will not only conserve the Chesapeake Bay but will lead to its restoration as one of the great natural wonders of our country,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. “We have a big toolbox full of conservation actions and we plan to use it.”
“Science shows that Chesapeake Bay habitats and living resources are already being affected by climate change,” said Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator. “We need to adapt to climate change to ensure that the places and things we care about like wetlands that serve as nurseries for fish and crabs and coastal communities that are vulnerable to sea level rise can be addressed in our restoration efforts.”
She said NOAA and the Army Corps of Engineers will also lead a revitalized effort to recover native oyster reefs and establish self-sustaining native oyster reef sanctuaries in key tributaries by 2020.
All the federal agencies involved in the new strategy for the bay will expand technical assistance and resources, and support development of innovative technologies to reduce pollution and economic markets for ecosystem services.
A Chesapeake Conservation Corps will be pursued to increase citizen stewardship, and public education will engage people in protecting local waterways.
Federal agencies have developed a suite of accountability and transparency measures, led by ChesapeakeStat, an online tool that will identify restoration projects, funding and progress, and be publicly accessible.
The draft strategy also calls for an annual plan for spending; reporting on environmental health and restoration progress, potentially through the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Bay Barometer; and an independent evaluation of federal efforts.
Jackson says the draft strategy will evolve through public comments, state consultations and agency revisions before the final strategy is published in May 2010.
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