by Jeff Corbin
May 19, 2011
EPA Senior Adviser for the Chesapeake Bay and Anacostia River Jeff Corbin discusses the challenge and importance of Chesapeake Bay restoration in our latest feature.
I have recently been given the opportunity by U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to serve as her senior advisor for the Chesapeake Bay and Anacostia River. I am both honored and humbled to serve in this role (as well as over-whelmed and sleep-deprived).
On my second day in my new position, I found myself in a late evening meeting with the EPA deputy administrator discussing urgent Chesapeake Bay issues. On his conference table was a report he recently received and on the cover was an aerial view of the Hoover Dam. If you’ve never seen what the Hoover Dam looks like from above, I can assure you that it is awe-inspiring. To think that we humans could build such a massive structure, divert enormous natural forces, and do it in the midst of the Great Depression, got me thinking - if we can build a Hoover Dam, surely we can restore the Chesapeake Bay and rivers that feed it.
I do not make that conclusive statement lightly. Full restoration of all of the Bay region’s waters will not be easy, cheap, or without stumbles and obstacles. So then why do I say we can do it? Because not a single person I have encountered in my 14 years of restoration work has said we shouldn’t restore the health of the Bay and its rivers. And I mean not a single person. Not an elected official, not a wastewater treatment facility operator, not a homebuilder, not a farmer – no one. And that gives me great hope.
This is not to say that various interests don’t have concerns about the timeframe for restoration, or funding concerns, or how the pollution reduction responsibilities were divvied up. But they all acknowledge that we need to figure out a way to get the job done. And we will. Through the states’ newly developed watershed implementation plans and the federal government’s recent Chesapeake Bay Executive Order Action Plan, we have the vision and the strategies to see this restoration effort through.
Interestingly, many of the people who sent me congratulatory notes after hearing about my new position also expressed their condolences. I realize that they did so jokingly, but it really made me wonder why so many people would make that comment.
Is it because the Bay partnership’s restoration efforts are under scrutiny? If so, why would we discourage scrutiny? We are committed to restoring a national treasure and investing significant federal, state and local revenues to do so – we should be scrutinized. But after the scrutiny, let’s come together and get on with our restoration work.
Is it because of the sizable projected costs? We’ve always known those costs existed – they’ve been spelled out in detail in the various “tributary strategies” developed a decade ago by the Bay jurisdictions, in reports prepared by the Chesapeake Bay Commission and the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Blue Ribbon Finance Panel in 2004. If we are now questioning whether the costs are sustainable, then were we ever really “committed” to meeting our previous “commitments?”
Or is it because of the sometimes seemingly insurmountable political divide that exists in Washington? If that is the case, I remind everyone of the following quote: “Preservation of our environment is not a liberal or conservative challenge, it's common sense.” Who said that? President Reagan, in his 1984 State of the Union Address. He then announced a sizable budget increase for the U.S. EPA – specifically for the purpose of restoring the Chesapeake Bay.
I ask that we stop thinking of the expenses of a clean Bay as “costs” and start treating them for what they really are: investments. Investments in clean water that will generate considerable economic gain for the region.
I ask that we redouble our efforts and commitment to do what it will take to fully restore the health of our rivers. Clean the rivers and the Bay will take care of itself. I am referring to the collective “we” – EPA and other federal agencies, Bay region states, districts and local governments, numerous stakeholder interests, and millions of Bay watershed residents.
In 1961, President Kennedy didn't say to the American people, "Let's try really hard to put a man on the moon"; rather, he committed the nation to do so by the end of the decade. If you go back and read the various Bay Agreements that have been adopted since 1983, the word “commitment” is used extensively.
So if we are serious when we say that the Chesapeake Bay is a “national treasure,” and we wish to honor our past commitments, then let’s gather the strength, will and resources to achieve the Bay equivalent of landing a man on the moon – or maybe something easier, like building a Hoover Dam.
We can do this – and the world is watching us.