Obama's Executive Order on the Chesapeake - a First

by Shana Campbell Jones

May 13, 2009

Yesterday, as the Executive Council for the Chesapeake Bay Program held its annual meeting, President Obama issued an Executive Order on Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration (a first), declaring the Chesapeake Bay a national treasure and signaling that EPA will play a strong role in leading Bay cleanup. For years, federal leadership on the Bay has been missing in action. President Obama's move is dramatic, and we dare to hope that this could be a turning point.

Among other things, the order:

  • Requires EPA to “examine how to make full use of its authorities under the Clean Water Act to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay and its tributary waters”
  • Establishes a Federal Leadership Committee headed by EPA and including the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, Interior and Transportation to oversee program activities, including data management and reporting;
  • Requires the agencies identified as part of the Federal Leadership Committee to make recommendations within 120 days on the regulations, policies, and programs needed to restore Bay water quality, as well as on how resources under the Farm Bill should be targeted to better protect Bay waters;
  • Requires the Federal Leadership Committee to define goals for the Bay and milestones for meeting the goals, as well as specific programs and strategies for meeting the goals; and
  • Requires an independent evaluator to “strengthen accountability” and report periodically on progress made toward meeting Bay-wide goals and to ensure these reports are made public and posted on EPA’s website.

We have long advocated for many of these actions. Last fall, we issued a memo to the Principals Staff Committee for the Bay Program outlining a series of options for an independent entity to improve Bay Program accountability, and also proposed metrics for the entity to use to monitor Bay cleanup progress. This spring we worked with an emerging coalition of 40 environmental groups, who wrote a letter last week to Administrator Jackson advocating for her to exercise EPA’s authorities to the fullest to protect the Bay and calling for the creation of an independent evaluator for the Bay Program.

As Rena Steinzor noted here recently, EPA is the only Bay partner with the legal clout to make the states in the Bay watershed toe the line – its leadership is crucial if we want a clean Bay. The Executive Order on the Bay is a welcome and critical step in establishing EPA’s leadership role. Now it’s time for EPA, the Federal Leadership Committee, and the states to respond to the President’s order with decisive action.

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Also from Shana Campbell Jones

Shana Campbell Jones, J.D., is a consultant to the Center for Progressive Reform on Chesapeake Bay issues.  She joined CPR in 2007 as a policy analyst, and took on the role of executive director in 2009, before leaving the staff to teach environmental policy at Old Dominion University.

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