Getting serious about the Chesapeake Bay

Sunday, November 1, 2009

PRESIDENT OBAMA recently issued an executive order aimed at cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay. Now comes Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) with a bill that offers carrots and sticks to push states to follow through on their plans to restore the 64,000-mile watershed.

Actions outlined in the Cardin bill complement those that emerged last month from the reports of the five federal agencies that make up the Federal Leadership Committee tasked by Mr. Obama to put together a strategy to bring the bay back to life. Mr. Cardin's bill would reauthorize the Chesapeake Bay Program, which is housed within the Environmental Protection Agency and charged with coordinating the cleanup effort. It would require the District and Maryland, Virginia and the four other states in the watershed to outline their efforts to reduce pollution going into the waterway. They would have to devise stormwater permitting rules that protect the natural hydrology of an area after development. All those paved surfaces that are the hallmark of growth are also channels for rushing hot and polluted runoff into the bay and its estuaries.

And the watershed states would have to abide by a bay-wide "total maximum daily load" limit on nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment that would be set by the EPA. There would be $1.5 billion in grants available to aid states with these efforts. Every two years, starting in 2014, states would have to issue progress reports .

You're forgiven for snickering after reading about yet another deadline for Chesapeake Bay cleanup. Three previous deadlines have been blown since 1983. And there have been no consequences. Voluntary compliance would end if the Cardin bill became law. A state's failure to meet the goals of its watershed implementation plan could result in the EPA withholding funding or stepping in to do the job for them.

That's a hammer that should spur compliance.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company