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Governors’ Meeting Shows Bankruptcy of Bay Cleanup Bureaucracy

Last week, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan chaired an annual meeting of Chesapeake region government officials supervising the Bay cleanup effort.

“It’s been an honor to serve as the chairman of this body for the last three years,” Hogan said to open the meeting the Chesapeake Executive Council. “Our theme for today is: Healthy Bay, Healthy People, Healthy Economy.”

One thing that was not healthy was the turnout for the annual meeting of Bay leaders. Only two of six regional governors even bothered to attend the video conference: Hogan himself and Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, who showed up in part to receive the gavel for next year’s chairmanship.

A key no-show was President Trump’s EPA Administrator, Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist who – in theory – is supposed to act as the cop overseeing and enforcing the whole Bay cleanup. 

Patrick McDonnell, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, offered an apology for his boss’s absence.  “Governor Wolf sends his regrets that he could not be here today,” McDonnell said.

He didn’t miss much – especially in the public portion of the meeting. There was no substantial discussion, and not even a mention of a notice of intent to sue EPA that Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia filed in May over EPA’s failure to enforce a 2010 Bay cleanup agreement.

Not a word was uttered about a recent report by the Environmental Integrity Project that documented how Pennsylvania and Maryland are going backwards in their efforts to control urban and suburban stormwater runoff pollution in the Bay, which is growing because of climate change and increasing rainfall.

Instead, the assembled officials gave each other awards, signed a nonbinding statement on diversity, joked about which state had the biggest and tastiest blue crabs, and patted each other on the back for their bay cleanup efforts.

Here’s Governor Hogan: “We’re proud of this incredible progress in our state, the achievements of this partnership, and the progress that is yet to come.”

Virginia Governor Northam heaped praise on Hogan. “I just wanted to thank you for your leadership over the years, and as you know I spent a lot of time on the Chesapeake Bay and I have watched the progress that we have made,” Northam said. “And it’s because of your leadership…through thick and thin.”

The problem is, these claims about progress on the Bay are factually untrue.  According to the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, the overall health of the Bay rated a lowly 44 out of 100 last year. That was a solid 10 points worse than when Governor Hogan became chairman of the Chesapeake Executive Council in 2017.  In fact, the Bay’s overall health has only declined since the current EPA-led Bay cleanup agreement started in 2010. The bay’s health is also down since the monitoring began back in 1986, when the estuary’s health rated a 48 out of 100.

In plain English. The current Bay cleanup effort is just not working.  It’s an empty shell – a headless bureaucracy that is stumbling because the EPA, under President Trump, will not do its job; and because of an emphasis by all parties on politics, posturing, and spin over candor, regulation, and real action.

The proof of this con came near the end of last week’s meeting. The governors selected as the new chairman of a regional state legislative alliance called the Chesapeake Bay Commission, a Republican state Senator from Pennsylvania named Gene Yaw. What are his environmental credentials?

Well, the League of Conservation Voters gave Senator Yaw, who represents a farming part of north central Pennsylvania, a lifetime score of 21 out of 100 – in part because of his opposition to clean water legislation.

It is crazy that this man would be chosen to coordinate state pollution control legislation. History shows he will likely do exactly the opposite.  The Bay cleanup needs a house cleaning.


Historic photo of Chesapeake Executive Council meeting by Chesapeake Bay Program

Tom Pelton, a national award-winning environmental journalist, has hosted "The Environment in Focus" since 2007. He also works as director of communications for the Environmental Integrity Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to holding polluters and governments accountable to protect public health. From 1997 until 2008, he was a journalist for The Baltimore Sun, where he was twice named one of the best environmental reporters in America by the Society of Environmental Journalists.