Environmentalists are slamming a new draft Chesapeake Bay restoration agreement for failing to address toxic pollution or even mention climate change as a complicating factor in the three-decade effort to revive the ailing estuary.
The Chesapeake Bay Program, a "partnership" of the Environmental Protection Agency and the six states that drain into the bay - including Maryland - released Wednesday a draft agreement "to guide the next chapter of restoration across the watershed." Officials said it "clarifies" the "visions and values" of the multistate effort.
The 12-page document contains seven broad "goals and outcomes" the states and federal government pledge to work toward. They include: protecting and restoring the bay's fish, shellfish and other living resources, restoring lost wetlands, underwater grasses and forests, expanding public access to the bay and instilling "environmental literacy" among the region's students.
"By signing this agreement, bay program partners will acknowledge that our environment is a system and that these goals will support public health and the health of the watershed as a whole," Nick DiPasquale, director of EPA's bay program office said in a statement accompanying the pact's release.
The draft comes after more than a year of seeking input, and release of an abridged version last summer. It replaces and updates an agreement signed in 2000.
That 13-page document listed 102 specific goals, including a pledge to work toward eliminating toxic pollution's impacts and a commitment to evaulate the potential impact of climate change on the watershed. It also specifically acknowledged that population growth and development are threats to the bay - something unmentioned in the new pact, though it does pledge to work toward conserving farmland and forests.
Kim Coble, vice president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said she was "shocked" that the new pact has no specific goals to reduce toxic contamination.
"This draft agreement moves us backward not forward with regard to stopping toxic pollution," she said in a statement released by the Annapolis-based group.
"We are also shocked," she added, " that this draft agreement fails to address one of the most critical environmental challenges to our planet - global climate change. How could this be possible in 2014?"
Gov. Martin O'Malley, who took over in December as chairman of the bay program's executive council, had said then that he believed the agreement still being drafted at that time ought to address toxic pollution and climate change.
The bay program plans to hold a signing ceremony in the spring. Meanwhile, officials said they are seeking public input on the draft agreement. The deadline for submitting comments is March 17.