Bay Cleanup Officials Back Off Long-Term Deadlines; Goals Unset

By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 21, 2008

The traditional strategy for saving the Chesapeake Bay -- in which governments promise major improvements but only set a faraway deadline -- isn't working, the leaders of the cleanup said yesterday. Instead, they promised to energize the effort with short-term goals.

That will happen, the leaders said, as soon as they figure out what those goals should be. They said that could take six months.

"The history of setting the 10-year goals has been, bluntly, a failure," Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) said yesterday at a meeting of the Chesapeake Executive Council, a group of state and federal leaders that oversees the cleanup effort. He was referring to a deadline set in 1987 that promised a cleaner bay by 2000 and another set in 2000 that promised success by 2010.

The first was missed, and officials now say the second one will be, too. "We felt like we need to change the way we're coming at this," Kaine said.

Yesterday's meeting, held at Union Station in the District, included Kaine, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and officials from the Chesapeake watershed states of Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia and New York.

It came at a sensitive time for the Chesapeake cleanup, which will reach its 25th anniversary Dec. 9. State and federal governments have spent billions, but the bay's health has remained essentially unchanged. By some measures, notably blue crabs and oysters, it has worsened.

At a private lunch, O'Malley and Kaine suggested a 2020 deadline for the bay cleanup, officials in attendance said. But Pennsylvania officials wanted to wait until spring, when more research would be available to show what is possible.

The officials then agreed to set a series of short-term deadlines, with unspecified consequences for missing them. The leaders acknowledged that their basic promise -- "What we're talking about doing is accelerating," O'Malley said -- had been made at previous meetings of the council.

But Kaine pointed to recent increases in state funds for cleanup measures as proof that the leaders will deliver on the promise. "We're just starting to make the investments that we should have made a long time ago," he said.

Before the meeting, protesters from the nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Foundation rallied outside Union Station and then, in their black shirts that read "The Bay Is Slowly Dying" and "EPA: Don't Delay Save the Bay," walked somberly among travelers in the concourse.

"We're still not seeing a plan," William C. Baker, the group's president, said after the governors and mayor had spoken.

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