- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A conservation group is suing to force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to enforce the law and clean up the polluted Chesapeake Bay, citing 25 years of failure to restore the nation’s largest estuary.

William Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said enforcement of the federal Clean Water Act could make it happen within five years.

“All that’s missing is for the EPA to have the will to enforce that law,” Mr. Baker said.

EPA has said it’s committed to fighting pollution, but contends that partnerships - not lawsuits - are what’s needed.

However, Mr. Baker and other supporters of the federal lawsuit say political foot-dragging has gone on too long.

C. Bernard Fowler, a former Maryland state senator who has battled for cleaner water, said the government has pretended to engage in meaningful policies to save the Bay.

“Today is a day of reality, when pretending we’re doing something is over,” he said.

Foundation attorney Jon Mueller said the lawsuit states that the EPA’s administrator has failed to comply with a congressional mandate to clean up the Bay as specified in agreements signed in 1983, 1987 and 2000. The lawsuit also states that the agency’s actions were “unreasonably withheld,” and that the EPA has failed to meet established deadlines.

The foundation hopes President-elect Barack Obama’s incoming administration will take note of the lawsuit and of numerous wastewater improvements in the Chesapeake watershed that a federal stimulus package could help put in motion.

Mr. Baker called the lawsuit a legal “David and Goliath” case, but said he hopes it sparks broader action.

“We hope that this will be the beginning of the biggest fight for clean water the nation has ever seen,” he said.

He noted the Bay’s proximity to the District makes it a fitting symbol for the government’s ability to preserve the country’s environment.

“Saving the Chesapeake Bay can be a model for success nationwide,” Mr. Baker said. “Failure to save the Bay will be a model of failure nationwide.”

Poor water quality caused by pollution has harmed the blue crab population, destroyed underwater grasses and hurt Bay fish. The losses have badly damaged the soft-shell and peeler blue crab fisheries in Maryland and Virginia, bringing a federal disaster declaration last year.

Fishing groups and former Maryland Gov. Harry R. Hughes, a Democrat, also have signed on to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed in the District a week after the foundation released a report pointing to pollution and over-harvesting as primary causes of steep declines in the crab population.

Last month marked the 25th anniversary of a landmark agreement to clean up the waterway. Subsequent agreements in 1987 and 2000 also have failed to achieve their goals. The 2000 agreement called for reducing nitrogen and phosphorous pollution by 40 percent by 2010 — a deadline that will not be met.

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