- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 2, 2011

BALTIMORE — The Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay restoration strategy can stand up to court challenges by farm and development groups, the agency’s senior bay adviser said Tuesday.

“If you want to challenge the bay restoration effort, that’s fine. Because we’ve got the science, we’ve got the modeling, we’ve got the legal backing. We will win this one,” EPA adviser Jeff Corbin said. “The tricky part is going to be where is the money going to come from.”

Mr. Corbin appeared at a panel discussion Tuesday at a national ecosystem restoration conference in Baltimore.

The federal agency developed the strategy in response to a presidential order after decades of state-led efforts failed to restore the waterway. In addition to the court challenges, Virginia’s governor has questioned the cost of the effort. Virginia has estimated it could have to pay as much as $8 billion through 2025.

The strategy calls for sharp cuts in pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorous — which come from sources such as power plants, sewage and fertilizer running off lawns and farms — as well as sediment running off roads, farms, construction sites and developments. The pollutants spur oxygen-robbing algae blooms once they reach the bay.

While predicting eventual victory in the courts, Mr. Corbin said the new strategy has brought the issue to a crossroads, and more money will be needed to ensure success.

“If we’re not going to get it done, the difference is now we’re going to have to admit we’re not going to get it done,” Mr. Corbin said, adding later: “I don’t think anybody is willing to do that.”

The EPA adviser appeared at the panel discussion along with Robert Summers, secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment; Will Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation; and Ann Pesiri Swanson, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which advises state legislators in Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania on bay issues.

Mr. Summers agreed more money was needed, saying a doubling of the state’s “flush fee” — which pays for septic tank upgrades that keep algae bloom-spurring nitrogen from the bay — is needed. But he couldn’t say if the fee increase would be sought.

Mr. Baker, whose foundation sued the EPA and forced a court settlement over the slow pace of restoration efforts, said opponents wrongfully argue the effort will wreak economic havoc. Referring to the “pollution diet” proposed by the EPA, Baker said the states in the bay watershed have been “gluttonous,” but the opposite is not starvation.

“It’s just eating wisely,” he said.

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