Partner Spotlight: A Conversation with Center for Progressive Reform's Evan Isaacson

by Kerry Darragh

This post originally appeared on the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition's website. 

All month long, MCAC has been highlighting the Bay cleanup plan, also known as the Bay TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load), in order to keep track of the progress that is, or isn't, happening within the Bay watershed to reduce pollution. We recently chatted with Evan Isaacson, policy analyst at the Center for Progressive Reform, about tracking the progress of the Bay TMDL, what more states should be doing and how citizens can get involved in the fight for clean water.

How Bay States are Progressing

Isaacson says that according to the latest modelling from the Bay Program, the bay states as a whole region remain far off track to meet both the 2017 midpoint and 2025 final pollution reduction targets.

"If we want to have any hope of restoring the Bay, we're going to need much greater leadership from local, state and federal officials going forward, as well as greater participation from the public, businesses and the nonprofit community," he says.

There is good news, however – we now have a good handle on what is working and what isn't. One example is the region's wastewater sector – the sewage treatment plants, factories and other facilities with pipes coming out of them – which is so ahead of schedule that it exceeded the final 2025 target reductions under the Bay TMDL about a decade early. The key to doing this, he says, is proper enforcement.

"These facilities have long been regulated by the state and federal government under the Clean Water Act," said Isaacson. "So we know that if we make sure to implement and enforce our environmental laws, we will make progress."

Isaacson says this success story also highlights the importance of informed and science-based policymaking. "Years ago the Bay Program's research and modelling demonstrated to state officials that if they commit funding to help local governments upgrade municipal sewage plants, that would go a long way toward meeting our Bay restoration needs," he added. "Those decisions are now paying off. If we continue to fund the state and federal scientists working within the Bay Program partnership, the research coming out of these institutions will yield tremendous benefits."

What States Should Be Doing to Live Up to their Commitments to Cleaning Up the Bay

The Chesapeake Executive Council met a couple weeks ago and affirmed their commitment to cleaning up the Bay. This was important to pay attention to this year, says Isaacson, given the federal budget proposal to completely eliminate funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program.

"This warranted a very strong show of support from the governors and other leaders in the region. And I think that's exactly what we got," he says.

But Isaacson also added that even if the Bay Program gets fully funded at current levels, the president's budget proposal is still extremely concerning. The administration proposed eliminating all regional watershed restoration efforts and would slash millions from EPA's budget, especially money for enforcement.

"In other words, we can restore every cent to the Bay Program budget and still lose the Bay restoration framework," he says.

Isaacson also asserts that lawmakers and elected officials need to have an honest discussion about the value, both economic and non-economic, of our environmental laws.

"Increasingly, we are bombarded with ridiculous and ideological attacks on 'regulations' as if they were useless restrictions designed solely to annoy people," he says. "Rolling back clean water safeguards benefits a few at a significant cost to many. If we did not have the Clean Water Act regulations that we do today, there would be so many more problems to deal with."

CPR's Role in Tracking the Bay TMDL and How Citizens Can Get Involved

Analysts at CPR spend a lot of time digging through the public data made available by the Chesapeake Bay Program and various state agencies and academic institutions and working with our advocacy partners and officials to make sense of it all, says Isaacson. And information sharing is crucial.

"I welcome anyone to read through our publications and materials on the Chesapeake Bay, our blog posts, and even my random musings on Twitter (@Bay_CPR) and to email me at any time with questions," he says.

Isaacson also says that while progress remains far behind, we can achieve our 2025 Bay restoration goals and he encourages citizens to make their voices heard.

"We need all the help we can get in advocating for clean water throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. It's going to take a loud chorus from concerned citizens to push lawmakers and other state and federal officials to step up and make the right choices."



© 2016 The Center for Progressive Reform