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Chesapeake Bay Experience Directly Relevant to Barnegat Bay

A Tale of Two Bays

Gov. Christie, DEP, & Local Officials “Sitting on the Crock of the Bay”

At this point, it looks like a race between seal level rise and eutrophication

“Basically, what we’re seeing is that the government has had its thumb on the scale for years,” said J. Charles Fox, former secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. “There’s no question now that the government was inflating progress in the Chesapeake Bay.”

He attributed the overstatements to “an institutional bias to show progress.”  ~~~ Bay Pollution Progress Overstated (Washington Post)

A decade ago tomorrow, page one of the Washington Post contained an explosive investigative story that began like this:

At news conferences, on its Web site and in its regular publications, the government agency leading the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay has documented more than a decade of steady progress.

The Chesapeake Bay Program has reported that the flow of major pollutants from rivers into North America’s largest estuary has declined nearly 40 percent since 1985, bolstering the claims of politicians in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and the District that they were “saving the bay” and helping the states fend off criticism and lawsuits from environmentalists.

Those reports, however, significantly overstated the environmental achievements.

Please read the entire WaPo story, because it tells an all too familiar tale of how economic development and political pressures on bureaucrats to show progress are used to deny problems and derail effective planning and regulatory solutions.

The Post story documents how science is manipulated to mislead the public about the actual state of the environment.

The Post investigation shows how the actual performance of various management programs is exaggerated, in this case, the failed locally controlled voluntary “partnership” programs that were put in place to avoid consideration of land use restrictions and far tougher federal “top down” regulatory mandates by EPA.

The serious problems revealed by the Post story lead to an Executive Order by President Obama (CHESAPEAKE BAY PROTECTION AND RESTORATION), revoking the flawed local voluntary partnership effort and re-establishing a federal leadership role under the Clean Water Act in managing the Chesapeake Bay, a national treasure:

Restoration of the health of the Chesapeake Bay will require a renewed commitment to controlling pollution from all sources as well as protecting and restoring habitat and living resources, conserving lands, and improving management of natural resources, all of which contribute to improved water quality and ecosystem health. The Federal Government should lead this effort. Executive departments and agencies (agencies), working in collaboration, can use their expertise and resources to contribute significantly to improving the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

The Obama Order was followed by a subsequent investigation by the US General Accounting Office (GAO), required by Congress in 2008, see:

Required by Congress, the GAO investigation was initiated in response to the Washington Post expose. GAO concluded:

Moreover, there are now two groups that plan to assess bay health. The Strategy calls for the Federal Leadership Committee to coordinate with the watershed states to align these assessments. However, the status of this alignment is unclear, and if these groups use different indicators to assess bay health, confusion could result about the overall message of progress made. GAO recommends that EPA work with federal and state stakeholders to develop common goals and clarify plans for assessing progress.

EPA regulatory oversight triggered the “TMDL” on the Chesapeake, which addressed some of the GAO recommendations related to common goals, clear standards, performance milestones, and assessment methods.

The Chesapeake experience revealed by the WaPo investigation, the GAO Report, and the EPA TMDL regulatory process are of direct relevance to the management of NJ’s Barnegat Bay.

Just like the Chesapeake failure that led to the Obama Order, GAO Report, and EPA TMDL:

1. DEP and the Barnegat Bay Partnership are in denial about the ecological decline of the Bay, and downplay problems

2. DEP and BBP are “inflating progress” and misleading the public about the overall health of the bay and the performance of local management plans

3. DEP and the BBP prefer to continue a failed management approach that relies on local, voluntary, consensus and partnership efforts;

4. Gov. Christie, the DEP and the BBP lack clear and shared goals

5. Gov. Christie’s and the DEP’s Management Plan lack

  • science and ecologically based monitoring and assessment methods
  • clear and enforceable standards to assure the Plan meets goals and objectives
  • planning and regulatory tools to implement the Plan
  • action forcing mandatory timetables to implement the plan
  • performance measurement methods and accountability measures to evaluate the Plan

All of these fatal defects can be remedied by adoption of a TMDL by NJ DEP, subject to robust public involvement and close oversight by US EPA.

Gov. Christie vetoed bi-partisan  legislation that would do just that.

And Christie got support from coastal environmental groups , some of whom just so happen to be funded by the Christie DEP.

But, the Governor will be long gone when the Bay collapses, the inevitable result – a case of when not whether – if current efforts are not seriously ramped up.

So, if you care about nothing else, just ask yourself, because stinging Jellyfish are nothing:

what would happen to the tourist economy and Bay property values in the event of a major harmful algal bloom that resulted in massive fish kills, huge odor problems, and prohibitions on fishing, boating, or swimming in the Bay?

What kind of hit would the market price of those Bay homes take? Sandy in scale, perhaps worse.

At this rate, it looks like a race between seal level rise and eutrophication to see which can kill the Bay first.

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