Gov. Wes Moore on Thursday announced that Maryland would shift its focus on Chesapeake Bay cleanup in response to a recent study that said states could be making greater progress on the issue.

Joined by EPA Region III Administrator Adam Ortiz at a state wildlife research center in Queenstown, Moore said the state would follow the science outlined in a report by the Chesapeake Bay Program Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee and focus more on the bay’s shallow water resources.

In endorsing the shift, Moore signed the first of two executive orders he issued during his multistop tour. At the event on Wye Island, a state natural resources management area, he created a governor’s council that will work on shifting bay cleanup strategies.

It will include the secretaries of natural resources, environment, and energy along with scientists and advocates for various interests on the bay.

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Later, at the University of Maryland Horn Point Laboratory outside Cambridge, he signed an order creating a second council that will explore changes in state policy on oyster restoration and harvesting. It also will include a range of interests and state officials.

“It’s going to take the advocates and it’s going to take the activists,” Moore, a Democrat, said on Wye Island. “It’s going to take the friends, it’s going to take the fighters. It’s going to take our local elected officials and our state delegation.”

Both changes were described by the administration as part of the state response to the May committee report, known as a Comprehensive Evaluation of System Response, or CESR. The 114-page review of policy and science took years to complete and confirmed what many observers had already noted — that 40 years of cleanup efforts have failed to reach hoped-for goals.

In one finding, the authors found that the technology does not yet exist to eliminate deep-water nutrient pollution and the bay’s oxygen “dead zones,” a primary focus of cleanup efforts to date.

Instead, state officials said Thursday, the report pointed in the direction of enhancing programs to curb urban and farm runoff in a shift of focus on rivers, streams and the shallow waters of the bay. The change would have the benefit of improving the habitat for a variety of species critical to the health of the bay, in addition to improving water quality.

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Ortiz, the top federal official overseeing the Chesapeake cleanup effort, said the shift comes as other aspects of the cleanup efforts are changing as well.

“We have the intelligence,” he said. “Now the political support and now the resources are coming.”

Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller listed a range of increased funding under the Moore administration for aspects of the bay cleanup. The federal government has increased spending on the program under President Joe Biden.

The governor and his entourage were joined by about 100 state officials, representatives of local government from both sides of the bay, and state lawmakers.

“In Maryland, we’re going to be guided by the science, not by politics,” Moore said. ”In Maryland, we’re going to be guided by data and not by partisan talking points.”

rick.hutzell@thebaltimorebanner.com

Rick Hutzell is the Annapolis columnist for The Baltimore Banner. He writes about what's happening today, how we got here and we're we're going next. The former editor of Capital Gazette, he led the newspaper to a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the 2018 mass shooting in its newsroom. 

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