WASHINGTON – Gov. Parris Glendening “laid it on the line” for leaders of neighboring states Thursday, introducing new targets for Chesapeake Bay nutrient reduction in what he said was an effort to keep the bay cleanup from stalling.
Glendening unveiled the new goals at the Chesapeake Executive Council’s annual meeting in the hope that the other council members — Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington, D.C. — would finally agree on overall reduction targets.
Maryland officials said they acted out of frustration with what they called bureaucracy and foot-dragging by other states over stricter goals.
“Baywide, the goals for the 2000 nutrient reduction have not been met and will not be met for another two to four years,” Glendening said.
Glendening’s new goal for 2010 is to cap nitrogen discharges into the bay at 38 million pounds a year — a reduction of 19 million pounds a year from today — and to cap phosphorous discharges at 3.1 million, a reduction of 700,000 pounds a year.
But those limits would apply only to Maryland, which is currently going it alone. Representatives from other jurisdictions at Thursday’s meeting agreed that continued nutrient reduction is important to the health of the bay, but they made no commitment to Glendening’s plan.
Maryland Natural Resources Secretary J. Charles Fox called the new goals a big step toward helping the bay, but added that Maryland “simply can’t succeed alone.” By taking the leadership role, Fox said, Glendening hopes the other states will jump in and help out.
Without that help, Maryland cannot do much to help the bay, Fox said.
He and Glendening said the administration will not force farmers to shoulder the entire burden of nutrient reduction. Their plan requires a sizable reduction in nutrient discharges from both sewer treatment plants and from agricultural runoff.
“We must help our farmers meet nutrient reduction goals,” Glendening said.
Pennsylvania, especially, is key to reducing nutrient pollution, Fox said, but representatives from the state were noticeably absent from Thursday’s meeting. The absence came as the council was promoting a plan to better foster communication and cooperation between local, state and federal agencies to help improve the bay.
Maryland’s “work will start virtually immediately,” Fox said.
By December, he said, “tributary teams” will begin examining how to tailor the reductions to each individual tributary within the state. For example, Fox said sewage treatment plants will be the focus of reduction plans near the Patuxent River, while plans for the Eastern Shore will focus on farming runoff.
The plan was hailed by environmental groups, who agreed with Glendening that the bay states “really can’t wait any longer.” They called it a realistic plan.
“We can get almost one-third of the nutrient goal by upgrading sewer plants,” said William Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
“It’s not the farmers, it’s government that’s polluting and government should take the lead,” Baker said.
Farm groups declined to comment on the plan before its release Thursday.
The new goals were announced even as the bay council delivered good news on the health of the bay. Officials said there has been a 27 percent increase in bay grasses, which now cover 85,252 acres of the bay floor, the largest area since tracking began in 1978.
But the council also noted that the increase in bay grasses was at least partly attributable to this year’s drought, which has cut runoff into the bay that can choke underwater grasses.