Md. expected to break from pact, take lead in cutting bay pollution

Glendening to announce Chesapeake goals today

October 31, 2002|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Frustrated by delays in the multistate effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, Gov. Parris N. Glendening plans to announce today that Maryland will go it alone in setting goals for reducing pollution in the nation's largest estuary.

Natural Resources Secretary J. Charles Fox said the state plans to reduce the nitrogen and phosphorus flowing into the bay by large amounts and will set target levels independent of any goals set by neighboring states.

He said the state is setting the goals because federal officials and neighboring state officials have been slow in reaching agreements on pollution reduction goals.

"It's been frustrating working within this process, and we here in Maryland feel we're ready to move forward," Fox said.

Fox said that Glendening will announce the goals at today's meeting in Washington of the Chesapeake Executive Council, which includes Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman, the governors of the participating states, and District Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

Costly proposition

Fox said the bay cleanup would likely cost "a significant amount" in state and federal money, possibly billions of dollars over the next decade.

Glendening's plan drew praise yesterday from environmentalists, who have been calling for such goals for years.

"I'm not surprised, but I am very pleased," said Will Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Baker said the goals represent a significant step in reducing the 300 million pounds of nitrogen -- a major source of pollution -- dumped into the bay each year by farms and sewage treatment plants.

Baker said upgrading sewer plants would cost $4 billion over the next 10 years.

Pact problems

Such nutrient reduction goals are supposed to be set by the Chesapeake Bay Program, which was set up in 1983 when officials from Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia and the Environmental Protection Agency pledged to work together to clean up the bay.

But Fox and other officials say the bay program has delayed setting goals, despite an agreement reached two years ago by the states and the district to reduce sediment and nutrients, increase water clarity and rejuvenate bay grasses that are vital to the bay's health.

As a part of that pact, known as the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement, the bay program was supposed to release specific nutrient reduction goals by today. But federal officials have delayed setting nutrient reduction goals, saying they are taking more time than anticipated.

Rebecca Hanmer, EPA director of the Chesapeake Bay Program, said the goals should be released in April.

Hanmer said scientists from the participating states are working with computerized bay models to determine the best ways to reduce pollution. But she said more time is needed to make sure the program's numbers are right.

"I want to be able to deliver to people the right set of standards because people are going to want to know why their money is being spent, and they need to know that it's being spent properly," she said.

Frustrated by delay

Donald Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, said many regulators in Maryland have pressed for adopting specific nutrient reduction goals.

"The concern is that we haven't even determined what the new goals are, much less started working to achieve them," he said.

Boesch and other experts say that while officials agree on the need to clean up the bay, Virginia officials believe more studies are needed and question whether they need to reduce nutrients as much as Maryland does.

Glendening's plan, based on EPA figures, calls for cutting the amount of nitrogen flowing into the Maryland portion of the bay from 57 million pounds to 38 million pounds per year.

The plan also calls for reducing phosphorus from 3.8 million pounds to 3.1 million pounds per year, Fox said.

More specific goals for reducing nutrients in the state's major rivers will be compiled and released by the end of the year, Fox said.

Taking the lead

The expected announcement of the goals comes with a few months left in Glendening's administration. But Fox said the decision to set the goals was based on a sense of urgency for the bay.

"The feeling is that we're behind schedule already," Fox said, "and we really have to act now and take a leadership position."

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