Region leaders cite progress in Chesapeake Bay cleanup; ecologists want EPA to act

A flock of seagulls swarm a puddle along a pier on the Chesapeake Bay in Havre de Grace, Md.
A flock of seagulls swarm a puddle along a pier on the Chesapeake Bay in Havre de Grace, Md. (Ricky Carioti - Washington Post)
By Aaron C. Davis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 4, 2010

Leaders of the District, Maryland and Virginia on Thursday claimed major progress toward meeting pollution reduction deadlines for the Chesapeake Bay next year, even as environmentalists questioned those assertions and said that if leaders are wrong, the federal government must step in and levy penalties against the jurisdictions.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and District Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) gathered in Baltimore, along with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D) and EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe in the first meeting of the so-called Chesapeake Executive Council since McDonnell took office in January and since a settlement last month of a lawsuit brought against the EPA by bay advocates. They say that settlement requires the EPA to hold states strictly to their 2011 deadlines for improvements to the bay, which include reducing nitrogen, phosphorous and other pollutants, planting cover crops to prevent erosion and cleaning up leaky septic systems.

O'Malley said Maryland had broadly reached 44 percent of its goals so far. McDonnell said his state is making progress on several fronts, including achieving its goal for phosphorous reduction.

However, environmentalists said McDonnell must have been mistaken, or thinking of a more narrow measure of phosphorous reduction from wasterwater discharge. "I don't know what he was talking about," said Beth McGee, a senior water quality scientist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "When you look at the total loads, I don't know how he can say they are making it."

Following the meeting, William Hayden, a spokesman for Virginia's Department of Environmental Quality, said McDonnell had been referring to wastewater, but that in fact the state is close to meeting its total 2011 goal for reducing phosphorous pollution. If true, it would be another measure of good news for the Chesapeake Bay, which has recorded a surprising, 60-percent rebound in its blue crab population, according to a recent estimate and slight water quality improvements.

Perciasepe, a former Maryland environmental secretary, attended the meeting in place of EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, who was busy with oil cleanup efforts in the gulf. He announced the launch of a new Web site (http://stat.chesapeakebay.net) where he said residents can track bay cleanup efforts.

"We're entering a time of unprecedented accountability," Perciasepe said. "With the technology and our ability to measure and monitor, we are learning more and more about how to be transparent and open and accountable for the progress we need to make."

Will Baker, president of the foundation, said he was still skeptical the states would come close to meeting the most important goals, and stressed that not meeting them is now a federal issue for states.


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