Eloquently and forcefully defending Virginia's right to partner with other states and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring told a Blue Planet Forum crowd of 200 people on August 29, 2014 that a restored Bay is in the Commonwealth's best environmental, cultural, and economic interests.
"We hunt and fish here," Herring told the audience at Old Dominion University (ODU) in Norfolk, Va. "We boat on these waters and play on these shores. We eat so many foods sustained by these waters. And tens of thousands of men and women make their living on the water, generating billions in economic activity. But it all depends on clean water.
"For centuries, we have worked voluntarily with our neighbors, and more recently, with our federal partner as well, to manage and care for the Bay and the waters that flow into it. The Bay states asked the EPA to help coordinate this effort because the Bay watershed is 64,000 square miles over six states and the District of Columbia. Virginia has never been a state to concede much power or sovereignty to the federal government, and we haven't done so here."
The attorney general's presentation came as a federal appeals court in Philadelphia prepared to hear arguments by national farm industry groups seeking to kill the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, the federal-state plan to restore the Bay.
The Farm groups already lost once in court in 2013 when U.S. District Judge Sylvia Rambo denied all their claims. They and attorneys general from 21 states, some as far from the Bay as Texas and Alaska, and several members of Congress subsequently sought to have that decision overturned.
In the spring of 2014, General Herring filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of Virginia in support of the Blueprint, making the Commonwealth the first state in the nation to do so.
"As attorney general, I'm not going to stand by and allow attacks on our plan to protect our waters go unanswered," he said.
His legal brief and his presentation at the Blue Planet Forum underscored the Blueprint as reasonable and appropriate under the Clean Water Act, based on solid science, and fully vetted by public stakeholders.
Echoing the earlier court ruling, the attorney general emphasized the cooperative nature of the Blueprint, which Virginia and the Bay states helped develop with EPA and have been voluntarily implementing since 2010. The Bay's health already is showing some signs of improvement as a result.
"So what's the bottom line?" General Herring told the Forum audience. "The states have led the charge to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, voluntarily entering into agreements and developing and implementing plans with coordination from EPA . . . It's commonsense, it's good government, it's within the law, and it's working."
He also emphasized how important the health of the Bay is to Virginia's economy and the well-being of all Virginians.
"Environmental issues are economic issues," he said, linking a clean Bay and a healthy environment to jobs, new business, and quality of life. "Key to our economic success is a credible case for a healthy environment and high quality of life based on clean air, clean water, and outdoor recreation opportunities."
The Forum was emceed by CBF President Will Baker, who cited the recent toxic algae bloom that shut down drinking water supplies in Toledo, Ohio. The incident dramatizes the very real threats to clean water around the nation and why Virginia's support of the Bay Blueprint is so important, Baker said.
The Blue Planet Forum, sponsored by CBF and ODU, is a series of free public lectures to engage citizens on important environmental issues facing the Hampton Roads region and the nation.