[Marxism] EPA failed to clean up Chesapeake Bay

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Dec 27 11:21:38 MST 2008

(First it was coal ash, now it is dead water. The EPA both under 
Clinton and Bush was totally ineffective. And now Obama puts 
Clinton's EPA administrator in charge of energy policy.)

Broken Promises on the Bay
Chesapeake Progress Reports Painted 'Too Rosy a Picture' As Pollution 
Reduction Deadlines Passed Unmet

By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 27, 2008; A01

Government administrators in charge of an almost $6 billion cleanup 
of the Chesapeake Bay tried to conceal for years that their effort 
was failing -- even issuing reports overstating their progress -- to 
preserve the flow of federal and state money to the project, former 
officials say.

The cleanup, which had its 25th anniversary this month, seems doomed 
to miss its second official deadline for achieving major reductions 
in pollution by 2010.

The goal of rescuing North America's largest estuary was formally 
entrusted in 1983 to a group of federal, state and local authorities 
under the loose guidance of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 
The task: controlling runoff from 4.8 million acres of farmland, 
installing upgrades at more than 400 sewage plants and managing the 
catch of more than 11,000 licensed watermen.

But the agencies charged with the cleanup have never mustered enough 
legal muscle or political will to overcome opposition from the 
agricultural and fishing industries and other interests.

Instead of strengthening their tactics, though, they tried to make 
the cleanup effort look less hopeless than it was.

That picture emerges from internal documents and from interviews with 
current and former officials involved in the cleanup, including two 
who served as director of the EPA's Chesapeake Bay Program Office, 
the closest thing to a "bay czar" that the decentralized effort has.

William Matuszeski, who headed the program from 1991 to 2001, 
described how the program repeatedly released data that exaggerated 
its success, hoping to influence Congress. His successor, Rebecca W. 
Hanmer, said she was instructed by regional leaders in 2002 not to 
acknowledge that the effort would fall short of its 2010 goals.

"To protect appropriations you were getting, you had to show 
progress," Matuszeski said. "So I think we had to overstate our 
progress." Several state governors said they were unaware of inflated 
data, and another EPA official disputed Matuszeski's account.

The cleanup's failure has prompted a coalition of environmentalists 
and scientists this month to call for replacing the EPA's approach 
with firm regulations on farms, sewer plants and developers. A group 
of watermen has joined environmentalists in threatening a lawsuit, 
hoping a judge can force the EPA to quicken the pace of the cleanup.

For the bay, the consequences are clear: The vast marsh-rimmed 
estuary has just as many pollution-driven "dead zones" as it did in 
the 1980s and less of the life -- crabs, oysters, watermen -- that 
made it famous.

"It'll always be beautiful," said Bernie Fowler, 84, a former 
waterman, county commissioner and state senator from Calvert County, 
who has argued for cleaning the bay since 1970. "But there's nothing 
out there living."

The 1980s and 1990s

For centuries, the Chesapeake was an environmental superconductor: 
200 miles of nutrient-rich water, full of sturgeon and ducks and 
enormous reefs of oysters.

Watermen and disease depleted its creatures, and farms, sewage plants 
and suburban storm drains polluted its water. They sent down a mix of 
manure, human waste and fertilizer that fed algae blooms, which 
depleted the water's oxygen.

In most cases, officials knew how to reduce this pollution. But 
almost from the beginning, they struggled to implement these measures 
on the appropriate scale (see "Scenes of an Effort Impeded," Page A8).

"The science has been clear. The solutions have been very 
straightforward," said William C. Baker, president of the nonprofit 
Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "And yet the public policy has not 
followed the science."

The government effort to fix all this formally began Dec. 9, 1983, 
when the governors of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania, the 
District's mayor and the EPA administrator signed a short agreement 
promising to work together for the bay. In 1987, the leaders set the 
bay's first deadline: They pledged to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus 
by 40 percent by 2000.

Soon after, officials banned phosphorus-rich phosphates from laundry 
detergent. They suspended fishing for rockfish and pushed sewage 
plants to reduce the pollution they dumped into rivers. In public, it 
seemed that the cleanup was working.

In fact, that's what the EPA said: "Pollution abatement programs are 
working," a "State of the Chesapeake Bay" report said in 1995.

Two years later, the EPA's Chesapeake office predicted that the bay 
cleanup would meet one key deadline: "The Baywide goal for phosphorus 
reduction will be met by the year 2000," it said, in a "reevaluation" 
of progress so far.

Internal documents from the Chesapeake Bay Commission, a group of 
state legislators that helps lead the cleanup, show a different view.

"In a nutshell, I don't entirely trust the reevaluation," Ann Pesiri 
Swanson, the commission's executive director, wrote in a 1997 
briefing memo for the commission's chair. The EPA figures, Swanson 
wrote, "project a rosy picture. Monitoring indicates a longer 
row-to-hoe before we meet success."

In reality, Matuszeski, head of the EPA Chesapeake Bay program at the 
time, said the cleanup effort was struggling. Despite progress on 
sewage plants, state and federal agencies had done little to tackle 
pollution from farms, septic tanks and city storm sewers.

"There wasn't enough going on, and there wasn't enough money behind 
it, and there wasn't enough regulation behind it," Matuszeski said. 
He said, for instance, that Maryland officials had rejected his 
general suggestion to put tighter rules on farms.

But, Matuszeski said, the EPA program was worried about losing 
congressional and state funding, which would jeopardize even the 
modest progress that was being made: "As public officials, you are 
driven by the idea that the American people like to be part of a winning team."

So the program published statistics, drawn from computer models, that 
showed pollution reductions that might occur in the future. They were 
not a snapshot of the bay as it really was -- in fact, Matuszeski 
said, the EPA did not know exactly how clean the bay really was, 
because it lacked adequate monitoring equipment.

But, he said, it was clear that the model's version of the Chesapeake 
was healthier than the real one.

"We had results that promised us future effects," Matuszeski said. 
But publicly, he said, "They were presented as 'effects,' and the 
assumption was that they were real-time."

Others within the cleanup's leadership had different opinions about 
what these numbers represented. Richard Batiuk, the EPA Chesapeake 
Bay Program Office's current associate director for science, said 
there was no intent to exaggerate: "Did we inaccurately apply that model? No."

Three governors who served during that period -- George Allen and 
James S. Gilmore III (R) from Virginia and Parris N. Glendening (D) 
of Maryland -- said they were unaware that the EPA's data had 
exaggerated its success. "That's disturbing to hear that," Allen 
said. "All indications we had were that progress is being made."

Within the Chesapeake Bay Commission, executive director Swanson said 
she knew EPA was "telling the happy side of the story." But, she 
added, "I don't think people were intentionally misleading."

W. Tayloe Murphy Jr., who in 1997 was a Virginia state legislator and 
the bay commission's chairman, said he could understand why officials 
would overstate their success.

"To keep what funding you've got, you don't want to say that you just 
failed. So I think, from time to time, there was a little rosier 
picture painted," he said. "We never came out and said that the bay 
program office is painting too rosy a picture. . . . We probably gave 
some slack to EPA, because we didn't blame them for the lack of progress."

During this period, the EPA bay program's funding hovered between 
$19.9 and $22.5 million a year. But, when 2000 came, the deadline was 
missed. The cleanup had succeeded in reducing phosphorus only by 25 
percent and nitrogen only by 13 percent, according to today's EPA estimates.

In response, the group of state and federal leaders made an even 
bolder promise: the "Chesapeake 2000 Agreement." They would cut 
pollution more than they had pledged in 1987 and have the Chesapeake 
removed from an EPA list of "impaired waters" by 2010.
The 2000s

In the years after the agreement, Maryland passed a "flush tax," 
which used fees on sewage and septic users to fund anti-pollution 
measures. Virginia's legislature borrowed $250 million to work on 
sewage plants. In Pennsylvania, new tax-credit programs funneled 
money to make improvements on farms.

But overall, the cleanup was still in low gear.

The EPA's Chesapeake office was focused on a massive scientific 
exercise: mapping 78 sub-sections of the bay and estimating how clean 
the water should be in each. That took three years. After states 
mapped out "tributary strategies" to comply with the new goals, the 
price tag for the cleanup grew to $28 billion.

That price tag was so high, environmentalists and officials said, it 
was like having no plan at all.

"We don't really have yet a truly viable plan to save the bay," said 
J. Charles Fox, who was Maryland secretary of natural resources from 
2001 to 2003.

Hanmer, who succeeded Matuszeski as head of the EPA Chesapeake 
office, said she knew early in her tenure that the cleanup effort was 
probably moving too slowly to meet its 2010 goal.

"Is the program and the public going to be well-served by our 
stopping and trying to renegotiate the bay agreement?" the cleanup's 
leaders asked themselves, she said. She said they decided there was 
no way to meet the deadline without exceeding the law or turning to 
stricter regulations that would force farmers to go under. "We made 
the decision, no."

Leaders also decided not to say publicly that the effort was so far 
off track. Hanmer said she was told not to do so in 2002 by the 
Chesapeake Executive Council, which includes regional governors, the 
EPA administrator and the head of the bay commission. "They 
maintained that we should say it was doable," she said.

"For us to declare defeat would mean that we would have no chance . . 
. of convincing the legislators to give us financing," Hanmer said. 
"Rather than declare defeat, we should work harder."

Glendening, who attended the meeting as Maryland governor, said he 
did not recall this. Swanson, of the bay commission, remembered the 
council's choice differently: not as an order to keep something 
secret, but rather as a decision not to focus publicly on the 
cleanup's long-shot prospects.

"They chose not to dub it a failure," she said. "They wanted to keep 
trying. And the more they could maintain a hope, the more they could 
motivate policymakers to do the right thing."

Three years later, Hanmer was asked by a Washington Post reporter if 
the 2010 goals would be met. "I'm certainly not going to tell you 
that we can't meet it," she said.

At the bay commission, Swanson said she remembered a similar decision 
being made in a committee of high-ranking staff members about 2002.

"I don't think in 2002, there was a cost" to not revealing the depth 
of the cleanup's problems, she said. "I think that, by 2005, 2006, 
you know, we should have made more . . . perhaps [we] could have 
recognized it more publicly."

In 2004, a Washington Post report revealed that the EPA was still 
using computer-modeling data to produce overly optimistic progress 
reports. A subsequent report by the U.S. Government Accountability 
Office found that the EPA program "downplays the deteriorated 
condition of the bay" by using modeling data instead of information 
from real-world water monitoring. The GAO did not say the numbers 
were exaggerated on purpose.

Hanmer said these numbers "had not been a focus of my personal 
attention" but that she was not aware of any attempts to deceive. 
After the GAO report, she said, the effort began using more data 
drawn from monitoring of the bay.

In January 2007, the EPA said the 2010 deadline wouldn't be met. At 
last count, total phosphorus had fallen 30 percent and nitrogen 22 
percent -- still less than promised in the 1987 agreement.

Last month, the current leaders of the cleanup -- the governors of 
Virginia and Maryland, the District mayor and the EPA administrator 
-- pledged to give the effort new urgency, setting short-term goals 
and creating consequences if they are missed.

The EPA also says it is time for a change. Current EPA bay program 
director Jeffrey L. Lape said the cleanup did not have enough money 
or legal muscle for its task.

"You lack the tools, programs and authorities to get the job done," 
Lape said. He was paraphrasing a July report from the EPA's inspector 
general: "I agree with that."

Despite that, EPA officials said they would not call the cleanup 
effort a failure.

They said that, in total, the cleanup had cut pollution from more 
than 150 sewage plants, reducing their output of one key pollutant by 
60 percent. They have curtailed toxic dumping, restored 12,500 acres 
of wetlands and increased the number of the Chesapeake's beleaguered 
rockfish by 15 times.

"We would have said we'd failed if we'd done absolutely nothing, 
against the face of population" growth, Batiuk said. But 4.3 million 
residents have moved into the Chesapeake's watershed since 1980, a 
population increase of 34 percent. Each one brought pollution.

While the Chesapeake effort has struggled, other cleanups have made 
history. The Hudson River has more oxygen, Boston Harbor is less 
septic and Tampa Bay has seen its underwater grasses come back. These 
jobs were easier, of course: The Hudson's watershed is the biggest of 
the three, and it is still one-fifth the size of the Chesapeake's.

Today, leaders around the Chesapeake are grappling with square-one 
questions, including: How badly does the public really want this?

"There's a difference between the idea of 'I want to have a clean 
bay,' and what it might require me to change [about] the way I have 
to live my life," said Frank W. Dawson III, who oversees bay 
restoration for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. "We 
collectively, as a society, may not be able to understand . . . the 
sacrifices necessary to get there."

The bay's last crab harvest was about 39 million pounds, about 60 
percent less than in 1983.

Its last oyster harvest was about 470,000 pounds, or 96 percent less.

This summer, about 17 percent of its water had lowered oxygen levels.

That was the cheeriest indicator of the three: After a 
quarter-century of work, the bay was just about as dead.

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