The top elected officials from the Chesapeake Bay region acknowledged yesterday what scientists and environmental advocates have been saying for years: They will not achieve their goals for cleaning up the bay by 2010.
However, members of the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council -- which includes the governors of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania, and the mayor of Washington -- said they will enact programs and policies by 2010 to reach the benchmarks for reducing pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus in the bay and its tributaries.
"We're not going to hit it by 2010, not on water quality, not on nutrient reduction, not on sediment issues," said Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, who chairs the council. "But we are all doing more. ... Now that we have an alignment and commitment of leadership across this region, more progress is possible, but the question of when we achieve those goals will depend on leadership in the nation at the highest level."
To that end, the governors and Washington Mayor Adrian M. Fenty sent a letter to congressional leaders yesterday urging them to enact President Bush's farm bill, now stalled in the U.S. Senate. That legislation, if enacted, would provide $150 million to $160 million more per year to improve agricultural conservation in the Chesapeake Bay region.
Regional leaders are also pushing for an overhaul of the Washington area's Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant, which officials said is the single largest source of bay pollution. The project is estimated to cost as much as $4 billion.
The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture will allocate $11 million to help develop new pollution-control technology and techniques, EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson announced yesterday. He said the agency is committed to a variety of measures -- such as reducing fossil fuel consumption and improving storm water management -- to improve the health of the bay.
"Everybody recognized that over the past 25 years, we have made collective progress in helping to restore the bay," Johnson said in an interview. "Having said that ... it's also clear that we have more work to do."
The 2010 goals, established four years ago in accordance with a 2000 pact, call for reductions of 110 million pounds of nitrogen, 6.3 million pounds of phosphorus and 900,000 tons of sediment flowing into the bay. So far, according to the Chesapeake Bay Program, the region has reduced nitrogen by 23 million pounds, phosphorus by 800,000 pounds and sediment by 300,000 tons.
High concentrations of those pollutants in the bay contribute to poor water quality and "dead zones" in which there is too little oxygen in the water to support aquatic life.
Yesterday's meeting came days after the Chesapeake Bay Foundation concluded that the bay's health is slipping. Foundation President William C. Baker said he wished the leaders had committed to dollar amounts or specific programs for bay restoration, but he said he was pleased with the meeting.
"They said, 'Hold us accountable,'" Baker said. "I thought that was a new and encouraging sign."
In addition to the "flush tax" to clean up wastewater treatment plants, pushed through in 2004 by then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Maryland recently established a new $50 million annual fund to tackle pollution from agricultural and other sources.
O'Malley and Fenty were joined at yesterday's meeting by Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine and Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, both Democrats, and officials from the Chesapeake Bay Commission, Delaware, West Virginia, the EPA and the USDA.
The officials met for several hours behind closed doors yesterday at the State House in Annapolis and then fielded questions from reporters.
Kaine said that Virginia is on path to achieving its goals for reducing "point source" pollution -- the kind that comes from wastewater treatment plants and industrial sites -- and that he will focus on non-point source pollution, such as agricultural runoff.
Rendell signaled a willingness to invest more in bay restoration, if the federal government can be persuaded to match the funds. Although his state comprises a large swath of the bay's watershed, it has traditionally lagged in addressing bay issues, because it does not border the Chesapeake.
Kaine said little was done to accomplish the 2010 goals in the first few years of the agreement, but he said the pace of improvements is accelerating.
"So much of what's been done has been done in the last four years," Kaine said.