Fenty to meet with O'Malley and McDonnell as future of Chesapeake Bay comes back in focus

By Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 3, 2010

With states that are the primary polluters of the Chesapeake Bay lagging far behind their cleanup goals, the governors of Maryland and Virginia and D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty are scheduled to meet Thursday to contemplate the salvation of the nation's largest estuary.

The gathering in Baltimore comes after decades of failure to meet goals set to cleanse the bay, and after a pair of potentially significant developments that will put additional pressure on state and local governments in the 64,000-square-mile watershed.

An Obama administration initiative rolled out two weeks ago requires that each of the six watershed states and the District come up with its own restrictions on farmers, developers, homeowners and others to curtail the flow of pollutants into the bay.

The Environmental Protection Agency is at work determining what's called the Total Maximum Daily Load that bay waters can absorb if water quality is to improve. The TMDL will be apportioned to the states.

A second fresh element in play when Maryland's Martin O'Malley (D) and Virginia's Robert F. McDonnell (R) meet with Fenty (D) on Thursday is the settlement last month of a lawsuit brought against the EPA by bay advocates.

That agreement leaves the federal agency legally vulnerable if it fails to enforce new limits on nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment flowing into the bay.

Fenty and the two bay state governors were urged Wednesday to adopt 25 standards for cleaning the bay. A letter signed by a who's-who of bay politicians, scientists and advocacy groups that outlined the proposal said that "the voluntary, collaborative approach currently in place [has] not worked and current efforts . . . are failing."

William C. Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and a signatory to the letter, said the environmental crisis of the hour clearly was the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

"We have a gulf oil spill right here on the Chesapeake every day," he said, standing with three dozen other advocates at City Dock in Annapolis. "Almost a million pounds of nitrogen flows into the bay every day."

Much of that comes from fertilizer on agricultural fields, and one of the challenges in reducing that was underscored by Michael R. Helfrich of the Stewards of the Lower Susquehanna.

"In Pennsylvania, like most states, we've never been asked to be responsible for our waste," Helfrich said. "We need your help to get these politicians to do something because [pollution controls are] not popular in Pennsylvania."

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