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Environment

Chesapeake Bay Program vows to fight climate change more aggressively

Gov. Ralph Northam talks with a concerned citizen after Friday's, October 1, 2021, signing ceremony to increase protection of the Chesapeake Bay at the Brock Environmental Center.

For decades, the Chesapeake Bay Program has worked to restore the nation’s largest estuary by cleaning the water and protecting wildlife.

Those efforts are no longer enough with the threat of climate change accelerating, the program’s leaders said Friday.

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They want to be more aggressive on actions that target climate change, the executive council said in a new directive.

“While we have worked hard to make Maryland a national leader on climate change and environmental stewardship, we are committed to building on that legacy, which is why I am submitting a memorandum today to Maryland legislative leaders which lays out four key principles to guide further action on environmental reforms,” said Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan. “It calls for stronger public-private funding mechanisms to increase investment in Bay restoration, a forward-thinking clean energy package, expanding land conservation and preservation, and an equitable transition to a cleaner and greener economy.”

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The commitment “is critically important and it’s long overdue,” said Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam at a signing ceremony at the Brock Environmental Center in Virginia Beach, the wetlands of Pleasant House Point stretching behind him.

The program’s executive council “acknowledges that climate change presents a clear threat to the investments we have made in restoring the Chesapeake Bay and that urgent action is required,” he said.

The program started in the early 1980s and is a massive partnership among nonprofits, academic institutions and local, state and federal governments. The council is made up of the six governors along the watershed, the mayor of D.C., the chair of the Chesapeake Bay Commission and the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Northam is the chair of the council, which usually meets once a year.

The idea for the directive came up last year during a discussion about the harmful ways climate change may affect the program, Ann Jennings said in an interview this week. Jennings recently took over as Virginia’s Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources.

In the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, the council committed to increasing the watershed’s resiliency and withstanding impacts from changing climate conditions. But program members felt more recognition was necessary with such “severe” change.

It’s a significant shift for the program, Jennings said.

The directive has four goals — first, that the program should address climate change in all of its work, not merely a mention as it was before.

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The others are that officials should prioritize communities and habitats most vulnerable to increased risk, apply the best climate science and connect bay restoration goals with opportunities for adaptation and resilience.

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Within those broad goals are a handful of specific steps.

For example, efforts that would help meet President Joe Biden’s goal of conserving 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030 should be prioritized.

Using conservation financing through carbon markets is another, along with emphasizing water quality work that sequesters greenhouse gases. Many strategies that farmers have used to reduce pollution runoff, for example, have led to a side benefit of storing carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere, recent analyses showed.

In Virginia Beach on Friday, Northam said he remembers seeing the bay decline while growing up on the Eastern Shore.

“This is personal for me,” he said. “The Chesapeake Bay was literally my backyard.”

Much progress has been made since then, he said, “but we obviously still have work to do.”


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