Contact Us

Newsroom

Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

Chesapeake Executive Council Meeting Washington, D.C.

10/30/1997
                Carol M. Browner, Administrator
             U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
                               
                Remarks Prepared for Delivery
             Chesapeake Executive Council Meeting
                        Washington, DC
                       October 30, 1997



     Thank you Dr. O'Connor, for those words of welcome.  And thank you for the use of
your beautiful facilities today.


     Governor Glendening, Governor Ridge, Governor Allen, Mayor Barry, Chairman Murphy
-- I am delighted to join you again for another meeting of the Chesapeake Executive Council.


     We are joined here, as always, by our many partners in this endeavor -- leaders from
business, agriculture and environmental organizations, as well as representatives of federal, state
and local government agencies.


     This council was created, and is sustained today, by a simple, over-arching philosophy --
that we are all in this together.


     No single industry or jurisdiction caused the decline of the Chesapeake Bay.  And no
single industry or jurisdiction can bear the full responsibility for returning the Bay to full health.


     Restoring and protecting this national treasure -- so that it may continue to enhance the
quality of life in this region for generations to come -- requires each and every one of us to do our
part, to work together, to set goals for reducing pollution and improving the quality of the Bay's
waters.  Most importantly, we must continue to strive to meet those goals.


     No one ever said that our task would be an easy one.  When this council was established
almost 15 years ago, the Chesapeake Bay had been under stress for decades.  Everyone involved
knew that they were in for the long haul -- and that every sliver of progress would be hard won.


     Accordingly, we have every right to be pleased with the progress that has been made.

     Most notably, the rockfish, shad and other species are returning to the bay.  Blue crab are
at least stable, if still vulnerable.  Underwater grasses, so vital to the bay's health, are on the
increase.  Water clarity seems to be getting better in many areas.


     Perhaps just as importantly, there is a growing sense among many of us who are part of
the restoration process that we can ultimately prevail in this struggle.


     At the same time, however, we cannot rest on our laurels.  We have a long, long way to
go.


     To paraphrase a quote that was in the newspaper the other day, "the patient is stabilized,
but it is not yet out of intensive care."


     To a certain extent, the Bay is something of a microcosm of where America stands at the
25th anniversary of the Clean Water Act.  Up to this point, we have made great progress against
the most conspicuous pollution -- the raw sewage and industrial waste that emanates from waste
pipes.


     Looking ahead, however, we can see that we have yet to fully address what very well may
be the most difficult part of the problem.


     When people could see and smell the pollutants that were being dumped, it was much
easier to take action.  That's why we've made such great progress in reducing pollution into our
waters from the large, stationary sources -- the factories and the sewage systems -- and the
Chesapeake is certainly no exception.  That progress is continuing.


     But today, the vast majority of harmful pollutants flowing into the bay come from what we
know as runoff -- from farms, from streets, from lawns -- and from airborne pollution that settles
into the bay.  We're talking about literally millions of sources -- spread out over the entire reach
of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.


     There's no room for finger-pointing anymore.  There are no scapegoats.  We are all
responsible for making the difficult choices and the tough commitments that will help us get the
Chesapeake Bay off of life-support, out of intensive care and back on the road to full recovery.


     Recently, the patient let out its latest, plaintive cry for help -- in the form of the Pfiesteria
outbreaks in the bay's tributaries.


     These outbreaks, and the widespread concern they generated, have underscored several
critical elements of our task.


     First, this is about more than restoring a precious, magnificent natural resource.  This is
about protecting the public health.


     Second, we must do more to reduce the polluted runoff that is harming the bay.

     Third, we must look at the Chesapeake Bay not as just one great body of water -- but
rather as many individual bodies of water that converge.  Many of the tributaries leading into the
bay are still overloaded with nitrogen and phosphorus.  If we are to restore water quality in the
bay, we must work stream by stream, river by river, community by community.


     Community-based watershed management tools -- such as total maximum daily loads --
must be a critical and essential part of our overall effort to cleanup the Chesapeake Bay.


     We can achieve all of this by redoubling our efforts to implement our comprehensive
strategy for restoring the bay's water quality.  Building upon the joint approach represented by
the work of this council, we must work evermore diligently to bring everyone together -- from
industries, from agriculture, from community and environmental organizations, and from all levels
of government -- to share our ideas, to pool our resources and, most importantly, to ensure that
we not only set tough goals, but that we take the steps necessary to meet them.


     These elements are at the very heart of the strategy, announced by Vice President Gore on
the 25th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, for ensuring that America is prepared to meet the
water quality challenges of the next 25 years.


     On a national level, it means developing criteria and setting stringent water quality
standards for phosphorous and nitrogen.  It means reversing the loss of wetlands and turning that
into a net gain of 100,000 wetland acres every year.  And it means special efforts to help states
work on a watershed-by-watershed basis to protect the rivers that feed into larger bodies of water
such as the Chesapeake Bay.


     But, here in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the focus has to be on what we are going to
do in order to meet the very difficult challenges ahead.


     We must face the tough questions.

     At this morning's meeting of the Executive Council, we took some important steps
towarding doing just that.


     For example, we discussed what we are going to do to meet our longstanding goal of
reducing what we know as "nutrient pollution" -- nitrogen and phosphorous -- by 40 percent by
the year 2000.


    Right now, it looks as though we are going to meet the goal for phosphorous, but not for
nitrogen.


     Today, I am pleased to say that we will sign a directive calling for nine new, separate
actions to bring us closer to reaching the 40 percent goal for both pollutants by the year 2000.
These actions address polluted runoff, pollution from sewage treatment and industrial facilities,
and air pollution that deposits into the bay.


     This directive will attempt to answer a larger question as well -- is the 40 percent
reduction enough?  Will it help us control Pfiesteria?  Will it restore local watersheds and
streams?  Do we need to go further?  If so, how much further?  That is what we hope to
determine under today's directive.


     Let me talk about wetlands for a moment.  They are vital to this process of improving
water quality in the bay.


     Between now and the end of this meeting today, the Chesapeake Bay watershed will have
lost several more acres of wetlands.  Some 3,000 acres of precious wetlands are being lost each
year.


     We are fooling ourselves if we are to believe that we can restore the health of the bay
without first reversing this trend.


     I can report today that the Council agreed to develop state-specific strategies by next year
-- for achieving a net gain of wetlands.  The strategies will ensure that each acre lost will be
replaced by an acre with similar ecological value.


     But we want more than just a reduction in the number of wetlands that are lost each year.
We cannot be satisfied with simply stabilizing the situation.


     Since today is the last Executive Council meeting at which I will serve as Chair, I would
like to set forth a challenge -- that we do all in our power to expedite the process of establishing
specific numeric targets.  Targets that are bold.  We need to recognize the critical role that
wetlands play in protecting the environment of the bay.    


     All of us have pledged to work very hard, enlisting local governments, businesses and
citizens organizations to work in their local areas -- in their local watersheds -- to return local
streams to good health.  EPA will continue to work with the states to provide technical assistance
to these local efforts.


    Working community by community, watershed by watershed -- restoring habitats, working
to control runoff and other forms of pollution -- these local efforts can make a huge difference in
the quality of the water flowing into the Chesapeake Bay -- and, ultimately, in the water quality of
the bay itself.


     Today, the Executive Council will sign a new measure -- the Community Watershed
Initiative -- designed to more closely connect these local watershed improvement efforts to the
regional Chesapeake Bay restoration program.  Let me thank Virginia state representative Tayloe
Murphy and the Chesapeake Bay Commission for bringing this opportunity to the Executive
Council's attention


     We know that restoring and protecting the Chesapeake Bay has to begin in our
communities.  This Executive Council can set high standards and tough goals -- and we should.
We can continue to monitor and assess the bay's water quality -- and we will.  We can work to
ensure that the challenges of restoring and protecting the bay are addressed in the most
comprehensive way possible -- and we must.


     But when all is said and done, our success will hinge on people -- people who live in this
vast watershed -- people who run the businesses, farm the land, fish the waters -- people who
build, maintain and govern our communities -- and just plain ordinary people who want to ensure
that future generations have clean, healthy water to drink, to swim in, to fish in and to enhance
their quality of life.


     Working together, as we have over the past ten years, I know that this Executive Council
can keep this effort on track.


     Thank you very much.