Reauthorizing the Chesapeake Bay Program: Exchanging Promises for Results

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Date
2009
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"In 1983 Congress created the Chesapeake Bay Program, establishing it under § 117 of the Clean Water Act. It was the first estuary to be targeted by Congress for restoration, and today it is the nation’s oldest estuary restoration program. The regional partnership, which now includes several federal agencies in addition to Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia, New York and the District of Columbia, is world-renowned for the quality of its science and its monitoring capabilities. Yet, although approximately $4 billion has been spent on restoration efforts since 1995, the Chesapeake Bay remains 'severely degraded.' Analysis of the Bay’s stagnating health over the last 15 years tells a discouraging story: while things have not gotten worse, they have not improved either. In short, we have been treading water instead of moving forward. While population growth in the region has certainly made Bay restoration efforts more difficult, the critical problem lies with the underlying premise of the Program itself: that a voluntary, cooperative approach among federal and state partners without genuine accountability and strong leadership works. A quarter century of experience demonstrates conclusively that it does not. The Bay Program has a long history of promoting 'lowest common denominator solutions' aimed at achieving political consensus and of being 'captured by the states,' who refuse to risk short-term economic interests to secure the health of the Bay and the long-term interests dependent upon it. The Environmental Protection Agency itself has been missing in action over the past decade, preferring to step lightly instead of using its existing statutory authority to press for more progress and controls. As long as the Bay Program lacks real authority to require its federal and state partners to take action, no entity is directly responsible for Bay cleanup--and no entity takes the blame for the manifest failure."
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coastal regions, coastal resources, water quality, population growth, water pollution
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