- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 10, 2009

BALTIMORE | Critics of the federal government’s draft plan to clean up the Chesapeake Bay said it lacked details, while federal officials emphasized they would let states continue successful programs to control pollution flowing into the watershed.

The draft released Monday includes expanded regulation of large-scale animal farms and urban-suburban stormwater runoff, but leaves room for states to cut pollution before expansion of federal regulation.

Chuck Fox, senior adviser on the Chesapeake Bay for the federal Environmental Protection Agency, said the decision was made in response to comments received from states that “believe they have a lot of local knowledge, they’ve got a lot of programs that are working well.”

“Generally speaking they would like the first shot at” crafting new regulations, and the agency was willing to work with the states, the EPA official said, dismissing criticism that the effort was a federal takeover of Bay restoration.

Mr. Fox said the strategy marked a new era of federal leadership, but “we simply cannot succeed on our own.”

The release begins a 60-day comment period leading to a final strategy within a year of President Obama’s May 12 executive order that mandated the federal cleanup plan.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation Vice President Roy Hoagland said he was concerned about the lack of specifics in the draft strategy.

“We expected a higher level of specificity coming out of the strategy, especially since it’s a strategy on which the public is to comment,” Mr. Hoagland said. “It’s a little difficult commenting on some of the ambiguities that are in there.”

The foundation sued the EPA over the slow pace of cleanup efforts, but tabled the lawsuit following the executive order. Mr. Hoagland said he would have liked to see, among other things, when the regulatory process would start for urban and suburban stormwater runoff, and what the regulations would include.

“What are the key elements of these new regulations? Those were all missing,” Mr. Hoagland said.

In a conference call, Mr. Fox said the EPA was receiving encouraging signs from many of the states on how they planned to cut Bay pollution, but many of the details had yet to be developed. Mr. Fox said he expected that by December 2010 states will have adopted plans to meet the EPA requirements.

Tommy Landers, a member of Environment Maryland, called the strategy a step backward.

When draft reports were released Sept. 10, the EPA indicated it would force states to meet strict guidelines.

“Now, they’re going to give states a chance” to cut pollution, Mr. Landers said, “but the states haven’t been able to do that.”

Mr. Obama’s executive order puts the federal government at the head of efforts previously led by the states, establishing a Federal Leadership Committee, led by the Environmental Protection Agency to oversee restoration programs and ordered the EPA to research its authority under the Clean Water Act to restore the Bay. Congress, meanwhile, is working on a reauthorization bill for the Chesapeake Bay Program, the joint state-federal program that has led Bay restoration efforts.

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