EPA and the Chesapeake Bay Pollution Diet
A Different Approach or More of the Same?
Last December, EPA issued a science-based pollution diet that—if achieved—would reduce
pollution to our waterways. Bay-area states have submitted and are refining plans to meet this
limit. Just as progress is underway, powerful forces are working to derail the recovery effort.
By Jeff Corbin
Recently, I had the privilege of speaking at CBF’s summer full-staff meeting. Having
worked for the foundation prior to my
tenure with the Commonwealth of Virginia
and my current position at EPA, I must say
that it felt like I was coming home for a
reunion. While some of the faces were different, the sense of purpose was not. Those
that work for CBF are truly dedicated people,
and their devotion to their work is predicated on the belief that what they do every day
will result in a healthier Chesapeake Bay. So
when I had the opportunity to speak to
them, I figured that I
owed it to them to
answer the question: Will
EPA’s Chesapeake Bay
pollution diet, or TMDL,
really make a difference?
approach is not that different from what we
have tried since 2000 through the largely voluntary Tributary Strategy process.
Senior Advisor for the Chesapeake Bay at a
time when EPA is under so much scrutiny—
when congressional inquiries and legal challenges abound. My answer is that because
now is the time—and years from now the
history books will show that the next year or
two was the period when we decided to get
serious about restoring the Bay and making
good on our past commitments. Congress is
paying attention: good. Parties that will have
to step up efforts to reduce their fair share of
the pollution are challenging us in court:
good. Make no mistake, EPA has the world-class science and full legal
authority to ensure development and implementation of the Bay TMDL. We
will withstand the scrutiny and put us on a path to
a restored Bay and rivers.
Something that we have
all been saying we are committed to for over
Hold the federal government,
states, and local governments accountable.
The Bay is counting on it.
and outside litigants—we find ourselves
embarking upon a different approach called
the TMDL or Total Maximum Daily Load.
Simply put, under a TMDL we have deter-
mined the amount of pollution (nitrogen,
phosphorus, and sediment in this case) that
the Bay and its rivers can withstand, and
divided that limit up among the states, rivers,
and pollution sources. The states—not
EPA—then developed plans to achieve the
required pollution reductions. Sound famil-
iar? If you have followed Bay restoration
efforts over the past decade it should. The
The Chesapeake Bay res-
toration effort is truly unique. The fact that
executive leaders from all six watershed states
and D.C., federal agencies, and state legislative
representatives have formed a partnership sets
this effort apart from other ecosystem restora-
tion pushes across the nation. Unfortunately,
there is a history of setting goals, making com-
mitments to reach those goals, and then falling
short of fully achieving them. Progress has
been made no doubt, and there have been
political leaders, but overall progress has not
gone far enough or come fast enough.
This time, however, the end result will
So as a result of those unfulfilled goals—along
with some pressure from the Clean Water Act
So why do I think it will work this time? The
answer is simple: We finally have everyone’s
attention. It took 30 years, but everyone—
from the media and farm organizations to
local, state, and federal elected officials; from
developers, to homeowners, and everyone
in between—is paying attention and asking
what it means. That’s the best thing that
could happen for the Bay and its rivers.
Many people have asked me why I accepted
Administrator Lisa Jackson’s offer to be her
But don’t take my word for it. Hold the federal government, states, and local governments
accountable. The Bay is counting on it.
Jeff Corbin—former CBF
scientist and Assistant
Secretary of Natural Resources
in Virginia—is EPA’s Senior
Advisor for the Chesapeake.