Maryland’s “Chesapeake Bay Cabinet” will Promote Innovation and Collaboration to Restore the Bay

Great Blue Heron on the Chesapeake Bay

Even before taking office there is heightened optimism surrounding Governor-elect, Larry Hogan, and his new administration in Maryland.  Hogan won election decisively on bold promises to create more jobs, help Maryland’s middle class, and jump-start the state’s faltering economy.  In his bid for the Governor’s mansion, Hogan also championed the continued cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay, but has steadfastly criticized traditional government approaches that simply haven’t worked and fingered upstream states, like Pennsylvania and New York, which he claims aren’t doing enough to stop pollution to the Bay.

Three of Hogan’s nominees, whom he calls his “Bay Cabinet,” could have a big impact on efforts to restore the Bay.  This triumvirate includes Charlie Evans, Department of Natural Resources, Ben Grumbles, Environment, and Joe Bartenfelder, Agriculture.

In a recent WaPo article, Alison Prost, executive director for Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay Foundation said of the nominees,

All three of the nominees have a history and understanding of the issues surrounding the health of local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay . . . [t]he most important question is what the governor-elect will do to direct these individuals to meet the commitments that Maryland has made.

Faint praise for solid picks, but understandable cautious skepticism by the most powerful environmental group in Maryland of an incoming Governor who has been strongly critical of the “rain tax,” aimed at reducing stormwater pollution impacting the Bay.

Although outgoing Governor O’Malley has touted his “green agenda” for Marylander’s, his administration raided more than $1 billion in environmental funds and redirected them to other budgetary priorities, funds that would have gone to environmental improvements.   At a time when Maryland ranks among the top-10 highest taxed-states in the Nation, this is hardly an agenda worth crowing about, let alone a green agenda.  You know the old adage, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.  Well, it’s high time we stop the insanity and do things a little differently.

I know Evans and Grumbles, who are serious professionals with a strong commitment to environmental protection and the Bay restoration efforts and they both possess a unique perspective on environmental problems and solutions.  Evans has been a developer for nearly 40 years, but has been a tireless proponent for the Chesapeake Bay.  He served in the Ehrlich administration as the Assistant Secretary for DNR where he led the initiative to establish the “flush tax,” which is a fee on sewer bills to finance upgrades to the state’s aging sewer infrastructure.

Grumbles, who I had the honor of serving with at EPA’s Office of Water, was the longest-serving Assistant Administrator of that office and also held the top environmental post in Arizona under Governor Brewer.  Grumbles has a long history of championing policies that promote innovation and collaboration as a means to achieve environmental protection at lower costs while respecting the rights of private landowners.  He is also one of those rare leaders with the unique ability to work effectively with others despite the political blood sport that so often defines environmental policymaking.

And it looks like the environment may be front and center as Hogan takes over the reigns of state government.  Before the incoming Governor and his team have time to formulate policies, outgoing Governor O’Malley in his waning hours is trying to ram through new regulations on agriculture to reduce phosphorous pollution.  According to a Washington Times article,

After weeks of promising bipartisanship and refusing to make policy announcements that might rile Democratic lawmakers, Maryland Gov.-elect Larry Hogan has picked his first political fight, coming out swinging against environmentalists and their powerful allies in the General Assembly.

Mr. Hogan vowed Monday to roll back proposed new regulations that would limit phosphorus runoff from farms, siding with Eastern Shore farmers who rely on phosphorus-rich chicken manure for fertilizer and against environmentalists who blame it for choking the life out of the Chesapeake Bay.

The regulation, known as the “phosphorus management tool,” or PMT, has been hotly debated in the state for years and was key to the green agenda of outgoing Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat who is trying to finalize the rule before he leaves office next month.

No doubt the new Governor and his Bay Cabinet are going to face difficult and controversial decisions ahead on balancing jobs, economic growth, and environmental protection, but under this new leadership I’m confident that Maryland will prove that a strong and vibrant economy is not only not an impediment to environmental protection, but rather it is essential to a healthy environment.

Government cannot solve all our environmental problems, and instead it must lay the foundation for the private sector and civil society to innovate and leverage new technologies, new partnerships, and new approaches to fix intractable environmental problems like those facing the Bay.  If environmental groups really want to see environmental progress and stop the insanity – and before launching any hand “greenades” – they will endeavor to work with the Hogan administration to try new ideas and alternative approaches in place of those that have failed to produce the results we all want in the form of a clean environment and more sustainable future.