Today marks the one-year anniversary of President Obama’s Executive Order on Chesapeake Bay Restoration and Protection, which commits federal agencies to a new leadership role in Bay restoration. This morning the Federal Leadership Committee, headed by EPA and comprised of many of the major federal agencies, released its final Strategy for Restoration and Protection of the Chesapeake Bay. While the final Strategy is not significantly different from the draft Strategy, it contains new detail about a watershed-wide nutrient trading program and the independent evaluator.
Since the Order was issued, the federal government has promised to take a strong leadership role in compelling state governments to fulfill a series of broken promises, demanding that states establish deadlines for concrete action that would trigger economic consequences if missed. Given stunning failures in 2000 and 2010 to meet pollution reduction goals, EPA’s commitment to become the enforcer and not just the collaborator with respect to restoration efforts is a welcome—although long overdue—change. However, translating this commitment into action will be a challenge for EPA, which must stand ready to both provide assistance and impose tough consequences.
The developments this week kick off a series of milestones that will play out over the coming months. In August, Bay states and the District of Columbia will submit their Phase I Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs), which will describe how states and the District will achieve their target pollution reductions between now and 2025. In December, EPA will finalize the Bay-wide TMDL, the largest TMDL to date. Meanwhile, in Congress, Senator Cardin is working on securing passage of the Chesapeake Clean Water and Ecosystem Restoration Act.
Collectively, these developments establish a system of accountability that has been missing from past restoration efforts. This accountability system is key: it means that grand but empty promises by states are no longer acceptable and that EPA and the FLC stand ready with both assistance and discipline for states that scoff at their responsibilities. Past Bay restoration efforts ended up being disappointments, leaving the Bay with staggering ecological devastation. We expect more under the leadership of EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, and we expect today’s final Strategy to deliver. To succeed, the Obama Administration will need to continue to exercise leadership on this issue and be willing to hold the states accountable.