Obama Orders Federal Clean-Up of Chesapeake Bay

On May 12, President Obama issued an executive order to clean up the polluted Chesapeake Bay after a 25-year cleanup effort by a coalition of state governments was unsuccessful.

“The reengagement of the federal government in the coordination of clean up of Chesapeake Bay shows a renewed commitment to the health of the nation’s largest estuary,” said CALFED Lead Scientist Cliff Dahm. “The role of the federal government in the California Delta also may be reevaluated as we strive to meet the dual goals of restoring the Delta ecosystem and creating a reliable water supply for California.”

The Chesapeake Bay, which lies on the Atlantic Coast and is surrounded by Maryland and Virginia, is the largest estuary in the United States, covering more than 64,000 square miles. The Bay is considered one of the largest and most biologically productive estuaries in the world.

The executive order establishes a Federal Leadership Committee, chaired by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to oversee the development and coordination of programs and activities of agencies participating in protection and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay.

According to the order, “Despite significant efforts by federal, state, and local governments, water pollution in the Chesapeake Bay prevents the attainment of existing state water quality standards and the ‘fishable and swimmable’ goals of the Clean Water Act. At the current level and scope of pollution control within the Chesapeake Bay’s watershed, restoration of the Chesapeake Bay is not expected for many years.”

“Restoration of the health of the Chesapeake Bay will require a renewed commitment to controlling pollution from all sources as well as protecting and restoring habitat and living resources, conserving lands, and improving management of natural resources,” the president’s executive order says, “all of which contribute to improved water quality and ecosystem health.”

The increased federal role gives the EPA enforcement authority if states miss established timeline goals and allows the administration to order more stringent cleanup goals than state officials could enforce due to political sensitivities. Additionally, beginning in 2010, description of how federal funding proposed in the president’s budget will be used to protect and restore the Bay will be included in an annual action plan published by the committee.