(Beyond Pesticides, May 14, 2009)
President Barack Obama signed an executive order on Tuesday creating a Federal Leadership Committee for the Chesapeake Bay to be chaired by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The executive order calls for EPA and six other federal agencies to coordinate and expand federal tools and resources to help speed cleanup of the nation’s largest estuary. At the meeting of the Chesapeake Bay Program Executive Council at Mount Vernon, Virginia, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson presented the executive order, which creates the Federal Leadership Committee for the Chesapeake Bay.
The Executive Council confirmed at a 2007 meeting that the Bay Program would not meet its commitment to clean up the Bay by 2010 as per the 2000 Chesapeake Bay Agreement. At that meeting, short-term two-year deadlines were set. However, since measures to improve the Bay’s heath have not been successful in the nine years since stakeholders were tasked with its clean-up, it is unclear how these milestones will be met by the two-year deadline in 2011. Chairman of the Chesapeake Executive Council, Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine, stated at the 2007 meeting that shorter term goals create the pressure to produce results. Many states are now tasked to significantly increase the pace of cleanup. For example, Maryland must increase progress to reduce nitrogen entering the Bay by 138 percent and Virginia by 86 percent.
The federal committee will be chaired by EPA and will manage new plans by a team of seven federal agencies to strengthen and bring accountability to efforts to protect and restore the bay. In addition to the executive order, Administrator Jackson announced that EPA’s renewed commitment to bay restoration will include a bay-wide set of strict pollution caps backed by state action plans and federal consequences to assure progress; sharp reductions in air pollutants that impact the bay; robust use of existing authorities; key funding support, and scientific and technical assistance.
“This executive order is a strong signal of the President’s commitment to restoring this national treasure, which is so vital to the environment, the local economies, and the way of life for millions of people,” said Administrator Jackson. “We are bringing the full weight of this partnership to bear on this challenge, and I am extraordinarily hopeful about what we can accomplish working together.”
Federal agencies will create action reports that will be integrated into a draft federal strategy within 180 days of the signing of the executive order. The federal strategy will include annual commitments and progress reports and periodic reviews by an independent evaluator. For its part, EPA’s plan will identify actions to make full use of Clean Water Act tools, including strengthening existing permit programs and extending coverage where necessary. The agency also will implement a compliance and enforcement strategy to ensure that regulated entities follow the rule of law.
EPA is also set to work with its state partners to develop a bay-wide total maximum daily load (TMDL) by December 2010 that will assign strict pollution caps to meet the state’s existing Chesapeake Bay water quality standards. The TMDL will identify the total pollution caps necessary to meet clean water standards and allocate pollution budgets to the states. Those allocations will be used to develop detailed state action plans that will be supported by two-year commitments and accountability provisions with federal consequences for lagging performance. According to the EPA, the TMDL process will involve strong public participation, including a first round of public meetings this summer. By meeting these and future milestones, the Bay states must put in place all pollution control measures necessary for a restored Bay no later than 2025.
“We have charted a new course for the Chesapeake Bay’s recovery that will succeed because it includes the short-term goals necessary to make steady progress and is backed by federal and state leaders who share a profound conviction to protect our environment,” said Governor Kaine. The Executive Order also includes: reducing water pollution from federal property; developing a Bay climate change strategy; improving agricultural conservation practices; and expanding public access to the Bay.
The widespread cosmetic use of chemicals on residential lawns and agricultural pesticide applications are significant contributors to the high loads of nitrogen and other chemical runoff to the Chesapeake Bay. A study by the U.S. Geological Survey found that “synthetic organic pesticides and their degradation products have been widely detected at low levels in the watershed, including emerging contaminants such as pharmaceuticals and hormones.” Pesticides such as glyphosate (Round-up), atrazine, carbofuran, lindane and others have been detected in headwater streams that feed into the Bay. The annual report, “State of the Bay“, published by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation consistently reports that the health of the Bay is declining.