Maryland Joins New Multistate Chesapeake Bay Agreement

A June 16 Bay Journal article reported on the signing of a new Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement.  The interstate agreement now includes participation by all states in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, addresses climate change and chemical/toxic pollution, and sets a series of goals and measurable outcomes for restoring the Bay.  From the article:

A newly enlarged Chesapeake Executive Council signed a new Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement Monday, hailed by memebers [sic] as a “landmark” document that is expected to guide efforts ranging from environmental literacy to restoring habitat through the Bay’s 64,000-square-mile watershed.

The agreement also made commitments to address climate change and toxic pollution as well as ramp up efforts to include minority participation in Bay efforts — all issues omitted from earlier drafts.

For the first time, the agreement truly encompasses the whole Bay watershed by including Delaware, West Virginia and New York as part of the state-federal Bay Program partnership which will oversee the agreement’s implementation.

Chesapeake Watershed Agreement 2014

Coverage from a June 16 Baltimore Sun B’More Green blog post further detailed the contents of the Bay Agreement and reaction from the environmental community:

The pact, the fourth signed in 31 years, contains fewer specifics than the last one in 2000, which had more than 100 commitments. But officials said the new agreement’s 10 broad goals and 29 “outcomes” focus restoration efforts on the bay’s core problems with nutrient and sediment pollution, while also tackling emerging concerns, such as new toxic contaminants. It goes beyond the mandatory bay “pollution diet” imposed on states by the EPA, pledging to work toward restoring crabs, fish and oysters, improving public access to the water and educating students about the environment.  …

Environmentalists gave the new agreement mixed reviews. Some praised it for dealing with climate change and toxic pollution after those went unmentioned in early drafts. Claudia Friedetzky of the Maryland Sierra Club called climate change “the great unifier,” saying it could affect all other efforts to restore the bay’s water quality and fisheries.

But others complained the agreement wasn’t specific enough and noted that it concludes by saying participation is voluntary and depends on funding being available.

“We need a bay agreement with enforceable terms, not one that provides loopholes,” said Betsy Nicholas, executive director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake, a coalition of 19 watershed watchdog groups.

Coverage from a June 16 Washington Post article highlighted state actions expected under the new agreement:

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), who spearheaded the effort, called it “the most inclusive, collaborative, goal-oriented agreement the Chesapeake Bay watershed has ever seen.”  …

In 90 days, the states and the District are to decide which jurisdiction will take the lead in trying to implement each priority of the agreement — land use, water restoration, scientific studies. In a year, they are expected to show the progress they have made toward those goals. Those two requirements were not part of prior agreements.

The Post article also discussed the Bay Agreement’s potential effect on litigation challenging the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) brought by the American Farm Bureau Federation and other stakeholders, including the attorneys general from 21 states.

The [Bay TMDL] is being challenged in court by the American Farm Bureau Federation, which argues that the plan should be voided because the watershed is under the jurisdiction of the states.

The EPA responded that watershed states are guiding the effort and sought federal intervention only after voluntary agreements failed to restore the bay’s health. The farm bureau lost in federal court but has filed an appeal, backed by 21 attorneys general. The agreement signed Monday underscores the EPA’s argument that the states are taking charge, supporters said.

June 16 Maryland Gazette Coverage