Cleaning the Chesapeake Requires Sticks and Carrots

Moving toward a final restoration strategy for Chesapeake Bay, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and other federal agencies proposed new regulations and incentives to lessen pollution in a set of draft reports released today.

EPA plans to increase regulation of the excessive nutrients—coming from agriculture, sewage treatment plants, and air pollution—that have long choked the bay. "The message here is that there is a committment to increase enforceability," EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said at a press conference. USDA focused on incentives, announcing it was committing $638 million of incentives over 5 years to help farmers reduce runoff from fields and barns. A report on science called for better monitoring and an ecosystem-based approach to restoration, as opposed to the current focus on water quality.

President Barack Obama called for the reports in a 12 May executive order intended to kickstart restoration efforts for the Chesapeake.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), an advocacy group based in Annapolis, Maryland, welcomed the reports, but called for tougher action.

"It appears that Administrator Jackson's EPA is finally ready to take on an ambitious agenda to reduce water pollution in our region," CBF President William Baker said in a statement. "Its suggestions for accomplishing this are positive, but weak and need strengthening." Baker would like to see stricter standards for air pollution from coal-fired power plants and vehicles, for example.

The research report, drafted by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and other agencies, highlighted the need to focus on adaptive and ecosystem-based managment (EBM). "This will require significant revision of the existing Chesapeake Bay Program goals and structure," according to the report. "The desired outcome is to transform the partnership to dramatically increase the involvement of citizens and local governments, and better align federal, state, NGOs, and academic efforts to strive for a sustainable Bay and watershed through EBM." 

An interagency committee will review the reports over the next 2 months and release a draft strategy on 9 November. A final strategy is due 12 May.