Who will lead for Puget Sound and Chesapeake Bay?

Federal officials are planning to put some heavy muscle on persons responsible for polluting Chesapeake Bay.

It’s an approach that several environmental groups in the Puget Sound region would like to see here.

“If the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan works, a bay known for soft-touch oversight could become one of the most aggressively regulated bodies of water in the country,” writes David Fahrentold, a reporter for the Washington Post.

Federal agencies today released seven draft reports calling for increased accountability and expanded use of regulatory authorities that can address pollution control and other issues. See “Chesapeake Bay Executive Order.” Despite concerted efforts over the past 25 years, the health of Chesapeake Bay remains “exceptionally poor,” federal officials say.

“We need bold new leadership, collective accountability by all contributors to the Bay’s problems, and dramatic changes in policies using all the tools at hand if we are to fulfill President Obama’s goal for clean water throughout the region,” said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in a news release (PDF 24 kb). “These reports bring us a step closer to achieving the vision we all share for the future of the Chesapeake Bay.”

The EPA has several programs that could force polluters to take action. Through the years, the agency has been reluctant to use its authority, preferring to gain voluntary compliance by producing studies that show how bad things are getting. The Chesapeake Bay Program, a multi-state, multi-jurisdiction organization, has been similarly criticized.

Last May, Fahrentold wrote a story for the Washington Post quoting Howard Ernst, a political science professor whose book “Chesapeake Bay Blues” served as a call to arms for Bay watchers.

Here’s Ernst’s key quote: “The question that’s before the bay program today . . . is whether or not they’re going to be an environmental implementation agency or they’re going to be a study-and-suggest agency. And the jury’s still out.”

Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People for Puget Sound, has been observing Puget Sound up close for more years than she wants to count. And for years she has been worried about similar inaction. When Kathy read Ernst’s comment, she made this notation in her blog:

This sounds a lot like an estuary near here. With a comprehensive cleanup and management plan in place since December 1986, Puget Sound is still the object of almost endless discussion — by scientists who want to come up with a perfect model of the ecosystem’s complexity before saying for sure what we should do; by politicians who don’t want to be nailed for advocating the land use regulations or the money needed to do the job right; by polluters and developers who know that prolonging the conversation also postpones the day of reckoning.

We need actions that go directly to the bottom line of saving Puget Sound:

Scientists: The perfect is the enemy of the good. By the time you figure out exactly how Puget Sound is dying, it will be dead.

Politicians: You are our leaders. You know the Sound needs more than lip service and little bits of help here and there. Bold action is needed, and you’re the ones who can make it happen.

Polluters and developers: Our economy is inextricably linked to the quality of our environment. You and the Sound can both thrive, but only if you get green. Really green. ASAP.

The Puget Sound Partnership has put together an Action Agenda designed around the notion of getting people and agencies to commit themselves to doing the right thing for Puget Sound then holding their feet to the fire. In Puget Sound, the federal government is taking somewhat of a back seat to the new state-based organization.

Will the revised Chesapeake model work better than the one we’ve approved for Puget Sound? I can’t say, but you can be sure we’ll be watching both waterways.

4 thoughts on “Who will lead for Puget Sound and Chesapeake Bay?

  1. Federal and state commissions alike, and even the Puget Sound Partnership themselves have pointed out time and time again how important public support is for making truly effective changes, yet time and time again the public is left out of the discussion (as in this article, though I must say that the blog itself and the blogger are doing a tremendous job of including the public in the discussion).

    Sure, we can put pressure on the scientists and politicians to coerce the agencies to get tough with regulations affecting polluters and developers — but doesn’t that sound a lot like the quagmire the Shoreline Management effort is in? Until the public are educated about our marine ecosystem and related issues, and until they coalesce to demand action, political and regulatory pressure will be like trying to herd rocks uphill — the rocks will attempt to find an escape route at every opportunity.

  2. Your readers may be interested to know that in mid October I have a new book coming out about the politics of environmental restoration.

    Its title is Fight for the Bay: Why a Dark Green Environmental Awakening is Needed to Save Chesapeake Bay.

    They can learn more about the book from my website:

  3. Interestingly, while I was working at the Wooden Boat show this weekend, an older gentleman came up to our booth and asked, “I’m from Mystic Seaport on the east coast, and if you guys have such a great place out here, how come I can look down in the water and see no bait fish at all? What’s the story?” His astute observation was right on the money. As was Ms. Fletcher’s observations. We have studied this problem to death, we need strong education of the public to the problems, and the solutions. There are lots of known solutions, but little will, even at agencies that are tasked with saving Puget Sound, to put their feet into the fire of public debate. It’s left up to Ms. Fletcher and People For Puget Sound, along with other non-profits, to call these government bodies to task for their lack of real enforcement of the laws and regulations *already* on the books.

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