When it comes to the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort, in Anne Arundel County, we are still in.
No local official should have to make such a declaration. It should be understood that every local and state government must do their part to meet the EPA’s pollution reduction targets established for the Chesapeake Bay in 2010. There should be leadership from Washington D.C. demanding that governments across the watershed do their part or face consequences.
Unfortunately, it appears that after turning its back on emission standards, clean air rules, clean water rules, climate change and so many other environmental initiatives, this EPA may be abdicating its responsibilities to protect the Chesapeake Bay.
In early January, I spoke to legislators from Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania at the Chesapeake Bay Commission’s meeting about Anne Arundel County's efforts to help achieve clean water. I told legislators that our county council unanimously approved our legislation to protect forests from development. I talked about investing in our award-winning wastewater treatment plants, and how we hope to connect more septic systems to those plants to make our investments really pay off for clean water. I talked about the nearly $270 million in stormwater infrastructure investments Anne Arundel County will make by 2023 to control flooding and reduce pollution. I finished with a collaborative message, saying it will require all of us working together as a partnership to make similar strides and achieve a clean Chesapeake Bay.
Later in the day, the director of the EPA's Chesapeake Bay Program told the same group of legislators that the Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan is an “aspirational document” that is not enforceable. I am told by others who were in the room that jaws collectively dropped.
It was left to representatives from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Maryland Department of the Environment to clarify for legislators that failure to reduce pollution should not be an option. Upon hearing this, I released a statement condemning the comment and calling upon local and state governments to declare “we are still in.” Over the next few days, many environmental organizations and local elected officials also condemned the statement and demanded leadership from the EPA.
Last year, I directed staff to research how we could better protect the environment. Almost immediately, they reported back to me that we could significantly improve environmental protections simply by enforcing our current laws. I was told that the first step to reform was sending a message to the development community and county agencies that from here on out in Anne Arundel County, the law is the law. We released guidance to the development community and the Office of Planning and Zoning that no waivers, also known as modifications, to environmental laws would be approved without a guarantee that the environment would be improved on development sites.
Our Department of Inspections and Permits has announced stricter enforcement of sediment control laws on construction sites, and our Office of Planning and Zoning is releasing guidelines describing the requirements of the new forest conservation ordinance. We won’t stop enforcing the laws, and we don’t expect the EPA to stop either.
Anne Arundel County is not alone in its efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. Local and state governments around the watershed have poured billions of dollars into this project. Yet, when some states and counties fall behind, we need strong federal leadership to bring them back in line.
If the federal government won't lead this effort, then state and local governments must.
In Anne Arundel County, we are still in. And I invite the Chesapeake Bay governors and other local leaders to join us.
Together, we will send a message back to the EPA that we will not sacrifice our bay-dependent local economies or our children’s environment, when we have already come this far.