EPA's Chesapeake Bay 'czar' to leave

J. Charles "Chuck" Fox to launch ocean conservation organization

  • J. Charles Fox, senior advisor to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson and Director of EPA's Chesapeake Bay Program, answers questions from Sen Cardin during a bay hearing.
J. Charles Fox, senior advisor to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson… (KENNETH K. LAM, Baltimore…)
December 07, 2010|By Timothy B. Wheeler, The Baltimore Sun

The Environmental Protection Agency's Chesapeake Bay "czar" announced Tuesday he is leaving to help launch an international ocean conservation organization.

J. Charles "Chuck" Fox, senior adviser to the EPA's administrator on cleanup of the bay and of the Anacostia River, said in a brief interview that he's taking "a dream job" next month to work on saving endangered marine creatures around the world.

He's leaving at a crucial time for the long-running bay restoration effort, as federal and state officials have dickered over how to accelerate the pace of cleanup after nearly three decades of costly efforts and frustration. Though farmers, developers and some state and local officials have voiced concerns about the costs, the EPA is in the process of finishing a legally binding "pollution diet' for the Chesapeake requiring major reductions of nutrients and sediment over the next 10 to 15 years in Maryland and the rest of the six-state bay watershed.

That EPA plan is due at the end of the month as Fox leaves, and as federal officials work to meet that deadline he said he's more optimistic than he's ever been about prospects for finally restoring the bay.

"We've still a long road ahead of us," he said, "but I really think we are beginning a new era for the Chesapeake Bay."

Fox said Maryland, Pennsylvania and other bay watershed states have made "significant commitments" to help restore the bay with cleanup plans they submitted last week to the EPA. All the states beefed up what they pledged to do after the EPA found major shortcomings in their preliminary proposals. Fox said federal officials were still working with New York, which missed last week's deadline, but he was optimistic a plan would be forthcoming.

"At this point we're confident we're going to be in a much stronger position at the end of this year," he said.

Fox, 50, who lives in Annapolis, has held a series of positions in federal and state government and with nonprofit environmental groups. He served as secretary of natural resources under Gov. Parris N. Glendening and as deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment. He's also held other top administrative positions with the EPA.

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson issued a statement thanking Fox for his nearly two years with the agency this time and saying he'd brought "passion and expertise" to the Obama administration's efforts to restore the bay.

"We'll miss him," said William C. Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, for which Fox also briefly worked. Baker, whose Annapolis-based environmental group had sued the EPA at the beginning of the Obama administration for not pressing states hard enough to clean up the bay, praised Fox's "energy and drive" in pushing to make the restoration effort a priority. But Baker said he was confident now that others in the EPA, from the administrator down, are committed.

Fox riled Gov. Martin O'Malley once or twice with printed or broadcast remarks that O'Malley took to be critical of Maryland's bay efforts. But O'Malley's natural resources secretary, John R. Griffin, issued a statement calling Fox a "great advocate" for the bay and wishing him well.

Fox said that although restoring the Chesapeake has been "one of my life's callings," ocean conservation is another. A group of wealthy philanthropists approached him a couple of months ago, he said, to recruit him for the launch of a nonprofit organization supporting efforts to preserve threatened species like bluefin tuna and loggerhead sea turtles. As yet unnamed, the new group is a project of the Oak Foundation, Planet Heritage Foundation and the Waitt Foundation, he said.

"I love ocean conservation, and it's one of those jobs you can't say no to," he said.

tim.wheeler@baltsun.com

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