The leaders of several states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed agreed yesterday to lobby Capitol Hill for about $12 billion for cleaning up the bay.
The Chesapeake Executive Council, a group of state and federal officials overseeing the bay cleanup, voted to support a new central financing authority with the power to disperse billions to various Chesapeake-related projects. The idea is to jump-start the massive cleanup effort, which critics say has been bogged down because of excessive bureaucracy and insufficient funding.
Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner, outgoing head of the Chesapeake Executive Council, accepts a parting gift from Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell.
(Michael Williamson -- The Washington Post)
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But supporting the financing authority doesn't make it so: There's still the matter of persuading Congress to come up with the bulk of the $15 billion needed to pay for the plan.
Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D), the Chesapeake Executive Council's outgoing chairman, said the lobbying effort would begin soon.
"We will be up in the halls of Congress within the next 45 days to lobby for the additional federal support," Warner said. He said the Chesapeake officials had been told to wait until after last fall's national elections to launch their efforts.
Yesterday's annual meeting, at a conference center on the grounds of Mount Vernon, provided a chance for officials from Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, the District and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to assess the bay's health.
All noted signs of progress: a new "flush tax" to improve sewer facilities in Maryland and rivers in Pennsylvania that have been reopened to migrating fish.
But most also said the cleanup effort was not close to meeting a self-imposed deadline of a healthy bay by 2010.
That goal, set in the landmark Chesapeake 2000 agreement five years ago, would require huge reductions that have yet to be seen in several pollutants. In fact, experts say by some measures -- such as the declining oyster population and large areas of oxygen-poor "bad water" -- the bay seems to be getting worse.
"Without major funding, there's no way we're going to meet that 2010 goal," said Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell (D), the council's new chairman.
The regional financing authority was proposed late last year by a panel of experts chaired by former Virginia governor Gerald L. Baliles (D).
It called for a central authority with 20 percent of its funding drawn from state sources and 80 percent from the federal government.
As drawn up by the Baliles panel, the federal commitment would be spread over time, beginning with $1 billion this year and building to $2.5 billion in 2010.
That would be a major increase over current funding for the bay, which Warner estimated at $230 million annually.
As lobbying efforts begin, the executive council voted to create a panel of experts that would report back by July 1 with details on how the regional financing authority might be created.
Before the meeting, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation led a rally in which speakers accused government officials of dragging their feet on bay cleanup measures.
William C. Baker, the environmentalist group's president, spoke from a podium emblazoned with the slogan "Stop the Delay. Save the Bay."
"Solutions are available. The bay can be saved," Baker said. "All that is lacking is the political will to get on with the job."