Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Chesapeake Bay Update

The Washington Post has followed up with an article on a report by the Government Accountability Office that criticizes the EPA division responsible for coordinating the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay:

A Government Accountability Office review found that the Chesapeake Bay Program Office -- an arm of the Environmental Protection Agency -- has no coordinated, comprehensive plan for cutting pollution in the bay, even after nearly $6 billion in state and federal money has been devoted to the effort in the past decade.

The office also does a poor job informing the public of its work, the GAO report concludes, and its annual State of the Chesapeake Bay report "is neither an effective reporting tool nor does it provide credible information on the bay's current health status."

The report by the GAO contains several specific criticisms and recommendations:

The GAO report takes the office to task for mixing monitoring data with computerized models, which are meant merely as predictions. That flaw, combined with a lack of independence in the Bay Program's reporting process, has led to "negative trends being downplayed and a rosier picture of the bay's health being reported," the report says.

Though the office has more than 100 indicators for measuring bay restoration progress and guiding decisions to improve it, "the Bay Program lacks an integrated approach that would allow it to collectively determine what the individual measures mean for the overall health of the bay," according to the report. For example, the report says, although the office tracks crab, oyster and rockfish populations, it has no means for determining what the measures taken together say about the progress made toward restoring the bay's aquatic life.

The report recommends that the office improve and revamp its assessment and reporting approaches and develop a "comprehensive, coordinated implementation strategy" that is achievable, given the program's limited funding. It also suggests that the office's reports undergo independent review to verify their accuracy and clarity.

An official from the Chesapeake Bay Program said that the office was changing its reporting procedures.

Further update: The application to list the eastern oyster under the Endangered Species Act has been withdrawn. (Via sphere, which has more on the subject.)

Another update: The coverage in the Baltimore Sun points out that reports that overestimate progress make it more difficult to implement unpopular measures to restore the Bay's health.