A former Maryland natural resources secretary has been tapped to oversee the Environmental Protection Agency's Chesapeake Bay restoration effort, an appointment activists say they hope signifies an increased commitment by the Obama administration to cleaning up the troubled estuary.
J. Charles Fox, who has held a variety of posts in state and federal government and with environmental groups, will be a special assistant to the EPA administrator for the bay and for the Anacostia River in Washington, according to sources familiar with the matter, who requested anonymity to avoid upstaging the official announcement.
Fox declined to comment, as did an EPA spokesman.
Fox, 48, an Annapolis resident, ran the Maryland Department of Natural Resources from 2001 to 2003. He served as an assistant state environment secretary and held several posts with the EPA in the 1990s, including assistant administrator for water. He also worked briefly for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and most recently had been senior officer with the Pew Environment Group, an arm of the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Bay Foundation President William Baker said he believed it would be "very significant" to have someone like Fox overseeing the federal bay cleanup effort, particularly if he reports directly to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson - as is said to be the case. The director of the EPA's bay program office in Annapolis, Jeffrey Lape, reports to the agency's Mid-Atlantic chief in Philadelphia.
"I've known Chuck for over 30 years, and he has the highest environmental credentials possible," said Baker. "If true, I hope this sends a signal that EPA is far more serious about saving the bay than they have been in the past."
The Annapolis-based Chesapeake Bay Foundation sued the EPA late last year, accusing the federal agency of shirking its legal responsibilities to lead the bay cleanup, which has repeatedly failed to achieve its goals, leaving the bay no healthier in many respects than when the multistate restoration effort began 25 years ago. Baker, who has charged the Bush administration in particular with neglecting the bay, said he hoped Fox's appointment would help bring about a settlement of the case.
Fox's appointment also comes as a new congressional report finds the EPA struggling to make progress on a number of environmental fronts, including the bay. The Government Accountability Office said the agency suffers from "repetitive and persistent" shortcomings, including a lack of consistency in environmental enforcement and effective use of its resources.
In congressional testimony last year, Fox, then with Pew, called for boosting the bay cleanup through increased enforcement of pollution laws, as well as increased funding and accountability of cleanup efforts.