Chesapeake advocates send Obama restoration plan

AP News
Posted: Dec 31, 2009 9:17 AM

A coalition of former governors, congressmen, scientists and others sent the Obama Administration their proposed Chesapeake Bay restoration strategy, a plan much tougher than the one being developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

One EPA official said the plan includes some measures that would require new legislation from Congress and other aspects would be better handled by the states.

The 24-point plan calls for significantly expanding farming regulations. Nearly all animal feeding operations would be regulated and the spreading of animal manure would be regulated the same as sludge from sewage treatment plants. The plan also calls on the EPA to require new development to offset any pollution it causes through reductions elsewhere.

The signatories include former Maryland Govs. Parris Glendening and Harry Hughes; former Rep. Wayne Gilchrest; W. Tayloe Murphy Jr., a former Virginia state delegate and natural resources secretary; and former Maryland Sen. Gerald W. Winegrad.

"Enough is enough. The politics of postponement have to stop now," said Winegrad, who added coalition members plan to head to Washington to press their case and counter lobbying against bay restoration efforts that he said were beginning to mount.

William Dennison of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science said the bay is the world's best studied estuary.

"What we need is the best managed bay in the world," Dennison said.

Chuck Fox, the EPA's senior adviser on the Chesapeake Bay, said the agency agrees a better job needs to be done of controlling pollution entering the nation's largest estuary. However, he said the EPA cannot restrict highway funding; the federal Clean Water Act does not have authority over septic systems; and its authority over agricultural operations is complicated.

"So, there are some of these recommendations that are probably better implemented at the state or local level and then there are other recommendations that will likely require new legislative activity from Congress," Fox said.

The announcement came a day after the EPA unveiled the consequences six bay watershed states and the District of Columbia would face if they do not meet bay restoration goals.

The consequences were immediately criticized by the head of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the advocacy group that has sued the EPA over the slow pace of restoration efforts. CBF President Will Baker, a signatory to the 24-point plan unveiled Wednesday, said the group, which had shelved its suit against the EPA while the restoration strategy was being developed, was growing impatient.

The consequences called for in the a letter to the states include requiring more farms and sewage plants to have permits; requiring additional pollution reductions and requiring offsets for new or increased sources of pollution. The EPA also said federal grants could be redirected or have conditions placed upon them for the watershed states of Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Delaware, New York and the District of Columbia.

Beth McGee, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's senior water quality scientist, said Tuesday the EPA letter "lacks concrete standards that will ensure when EPA will act."

Baker said Wednesday he's losing patience.

"EPA asked us to suspend the case, so we had time to enter into negotiations with them. We agreed to do that," Baker said. "We're impatient, we're not seeing progress in those negotiations and we're very close to presenting them with a very short-term deadline to put up or we're going back to court."