Holding Maryland Accountable for Its Chesapeake Bay Clean-Up Obligations

by Matthew Freeman

In an article in the most recent issue of The Abell Report, the newsletter of The Abell Foundation, CPR President Rena Steinzor and CPR Policy Analysts Aimee Simpson and Yee Huang take a look at what ails the Chesapeake Bay (Spoiler Alert: it involves years of inaction on pollution), and offer up a number of practical steps the state of Maryland could take to make good on its commitments to clean up this most precious of natural resources.

The article draws on a day-long forum CPR co-sponsored this past October with the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, an event that gathered federal and state officials, as well as leading environmental activists from around the region.

Steinzor, Simpson and Huang make the case that the reason efforts to clean up the Bay have largely failed to date is that the Bay states are fundamentally unaccountable. They write:

For more than two decades, the primary Bay states (the District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia) have engaged in a series of round-robin consultations held under the auspices of the Chesapeake Bay Program. Progress was made in diagnosing the causes and implications of dead zones; diminishing crab and fish populations; algal blooms; and pollution that made rivers, lakes, creeks, and streams unusable for drinking, swimming, and boating. Individual states implemented innovative and effective pollution-control programs; glossy reports were produced; and every year, governors and the administrator of the EPA gathered for a photo op on the banks of picturesque Bay waterbodies. Despite the analyzing, meeting, planning, and talking, the Bay’s health remains tenuous, and the Bay states have repeatedly failed to meet the pollution-reduction goals set during these appearances.

To its great credit, the Obama Administration has taken a considerably more active role than its predecessors, and has begun pushing the states to make real and measurable progress in cleaning up the Bay.

Unfortunately, years of broken promises are not easily forgotten, and huge challenges are ahead. The authors’ focus is on Maryland, the state that enjoys what is probably the best reputation among the Bay states for its clean-up work. But as the authors point out, Maryland is falling short in a number of areas. They highlight the need for improved transparency, more resources for the Maryland Department of the Environment’s enforcement work, a penalty structure for violators that recovers any economic windfall they gained from breaking the law, higher permitting fees for polluters, and more.

The article is well worth the read.



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