Local Governments Fret Cardin Bay Bill Sets Them Up for Failure

Capital News Service
Wednesday, October 14, 2009

WASHINGTON - The head of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Wednesday implored Maryland Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin not to set local governments up for failure with his new Chesapeake Bay bill.

Cardin's Chesapeake Bay Ecosystem Restoration Act of 2009, which Cardin said he hoped to introduce "very, very shortly," would establish a firm deadline for Chesapeake Bay restoration plans; codify President Barack Obama's Chesapeake Bay Executive Order, which requires annual reports to Congress by agencies involved in cleanup; and provide $1.5 billion in grants to help fund storm water runoff pollution in urban and suburban areas.

The bill would also mandate strict penalties for states that fail to meet the act's requirements and deadlines -- a fact that concerned several members of the council, including Chairwoman Penny Gross.

"In many cases when there is well-meaning legislation to restore the Chesapeake Bay, the requirements are either so tough or the time frame is so short that local governments are not able to comply and then we are tarred with the brush of failure because we simply don't have the capacity to move ... as fast as some people want us to," said Gross, who is also vice chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

The time to act on cleaning up the bay is now, Cardin said, and penalties are needed to enforce cleanup.

"We're at a crossroads," Cardin said. "We should be proud of what we have already accomplished, but we need to take it to the next level."

Gross said she would like to see Cardin work more closely with localities before the final bill is drafted.

"We want to make sure ... we don't then get penalized for trying to do the right thing," Gross said.

Frequently, according to Gross, federal Chesapeake Bay requirements do not jibe with local requirements.

"Do you comply with the federal or do you comply with the state or do you comply with either or neither?" she said. "What's a locality to do? That's not saying that we don't want to do something."

Cathy Drzyzgula, a council member from Gaithersburg who is also head of the council's Chesapeake Bay and Water Resources Policy Committee, said she was glad to see the $1.5 billion in cost sharing, but she would like to see realistic deadlines in the bill.

"There are local government concerns about meeting the already ambitious 2025 deadline," for restoration efforts to be in place, set by the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council, Drzyzgula said. Cardin would move the deadline to 2020. "Some aspects of regulation are best left to the state and local level."

Drzyzgula does not want the new federal regulations to conflict with local and state regulations already in place.

Local governments should determine the best way to meet federally set standards, she said.

Cardin said that if language in the bill needed to be changed, it could be changed.

"Flexibility will be there," Cardin said. "We're going to get adequate funding. The president already put in for more funding than the previous administration."

Cardin also stressed that it is not his intention to set local governments up for failure with his bill.

"We can't fail. The bay is too important," he said. "We know the sources of the trouble ... so a comprehensive approach needs to deal with all the sources (of pollution)."