After decades of effort, the voluntary, collaborative approach to restoring the health and vitality of the Chesapeake Bay— the largest estuary in the United States—has not worked and, in fact, is failing. A diverse group of 57 senior scientists and policymakers have joined forces to save the Bay. This is our plan.

Change You Must Believe In

(This is the second in a series of posts on What’s It Going to Take?: A look at how the environmental community can regain the initiative and build the political will necessary to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.)

(Posted by Doug Siglin.)

What's It Going to Take?The New York Times’ Leslie Kaufman recently reported that in the wake of Congress’ failure to enact carbon-limiting climate change legislation, several national environmental organizations are changing tactics. She wrote: “On the strategy front… a three-prong approach is emerging: fight global warming by focusing on immediate, local concerns; reinvigorate the grass roots through social media and street protests; and renew an emphasis on influencing elections.”

I hope she’s right, although with a couple of exceptions, I don’t yet see much evidence that national groups are really moving in the direction of the locally oriented political work that Kaufman cites.

Cap and trade legislation to minimize greenhouse gas emissions never achieved the level of public support it needed to get through Congress.  We may be seeing a similar thing with regard to defending the pollution limits intended to ultimately improve water quality in the Bay watershed.  Local resistance to the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) “pollution diet” and its required Watershed Improvement Plans (WIPs) is already significant, and it will certainly grow over the next 11 months of electioneering.

Six U.S. Senate seats, 40 House seats, and innumerable state and local seats are being contested in our region.  The EPA, regulations, TMDLs, and WIPs will be an issue, and many candidates will be asked by voters to publicly state a position on the Bay TMDL. In the current political environment, the easy response will be to call it too costly or regulatory overreach, especially in the absence of information to the contrary.

It is easy to forget that Congress can stop the TMDL dead in its tracks if it so chooses. Most of what Congress is hearing about the TMDL right now is a barrage of negativity from industry groups who oppose it. We need to be able to counter those arguments on the substance.  But even more importantly, Members of Congress need to hear a more positive message from “common citizens” and local and state officials:  that there are real benefits to staying the course, even if there are short-term costs.

As a community, we must renew our commitment to educate elected officials about the positive aspects of the TMDL and WIPs. CBF is taking steps in that direction—the recent jobs report and our commitment to put more organizers in the field are two of them — as is the Choose Clean Water coalition.  I’m pretty sure that both are willing to offer help to others who understand the stakes and want to act.

Please make a commitment to do more to educate elected officials about the positive aspects of the TMDL and WIPs.  At the last meeting of the Senior Scientists and Policymakers group, former Maryland Senator Bernie Fowler reminded us once again that, when you cut through all the noise, getting our pollution under control is  simply the right thing to do. I’m confident that if we invest in letting our representatives know that over the next 11 months, we will see an extraordinary return on our investment.

(Doug Siglin is the federal affairs director in the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Capitol Hill office. He has worked in D.C. as a congressional staffer or environmental lobbyist for nearly 30 years.)

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