Today at 12:30pm the Federal Leadership Committee released, pursuant to President Obama’s Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration Executive Order, seven draft reports to improve Bay restoration. Each report is about 50 pages, so there’s a lot of information to take in – from strengthening water quality to strengthening storm water management to assessing the impacts of climate change. After a quick look, here are my initial thoughts:
1. EPA Special Advisor Chuck Fox’s diligence and energy is impressive. Not only did he have to navigate EPA’s many layers of bureaucracy, he also coordinated representatives from the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, Interior, Transportation and others to make sure these reports made the Executive Order deadline. He has been – and I think will continue to be – remarkably effective.
2. In contrast to the previous administration, the Obama EPA seems to be serious about using existing authority to the fullest. For example,
With all the above said, the devil is, of course, in the details. For example, the draft report’s recommendations on the Bay-wide TMDL, while a step in the right direction, are still vague. A crucial part of ensuring that nonpoint sources meet their pollution budgets under the TMDL will depend on how stringently “reasonable assurance” or “reasonable progress” will be defined in the guidance – and the current definition in the report leaves much to be desired. In July 2000, the EPA proposed a definition of “reasonable assurance” that was later jettisoned. But that definition was far more stringent than the definition in today’s draft report. The 2000 definition required a state to demonstrate reliable delivery mechanisms and adequate funding to ensure load allocation reductions. The draft report definition refers vaguely and more generally to identifying the capacity to meet load allocations and commitments, omitting the stronger, mandatory language of the 2000 definition.
In November, the reports will be finalized and open to public comment. We’ll be posting more detailed analyses on the draft reports in the coming days.
For the moment, it's fair to say the EPA's efforts here are impressive. The proposals today are some of the kinds of steps that could really make a tremendous difference in saving the Chesapeake Bay.