The Potomac Highlands Watershed School 

Stream Cleaner Environmental Forum

Framing Questions

Thinking about the Bay Cleanup: Framing Questions


Scientists, government, and community working together to make sound judgments and take responsible action is the key to making environmental improvements.  Often, it is the American citizen who takes the lead.  For example, the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts of the 1970s were enacted because American citizens insisted on having breathable air and clean water Government responded with laws, supported by science, that were implemented over a series of years to the benefit of the American people. 


Without those laws, the America you live in today would have still have rivers with raw sewage discharged by cities, rivers in industrial regions catching on fire (really), and air full of pollutants making people ill.  The results haven't been perfect, but the laws have made a huge difference in the quality of your life.


After reading the eForum pages, it might seem that cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay is pretty simple.  After all, the each state's Tributary Strategies lay out actions that their environmental scientists say will solve the problem.  The Chesapeake Bay Program has checked those strategies using one of the most sophisticated environmental computer models ever created.  That was the hard work, right – developing, and checking, the science? 


No!  Having a strategy, even one based on the best available science, is only the first step. 


In the Washington Post articles on the main page (here), you saw that moving from the Tributary Teams’ strategic plans to actual implementation is the hard part.  The science was plenty hard, but action is even harder.  We must find ways to convince people to change the way they do things, effectively implement technologies, develop new pollution reduction technologies, and find ways to pay for it. 


The February 2007 issue of The Bay Journal ( ) illustrates how great the challenges are and the problems discussed will help you frame the discussions, develop your POVs, pose Thoughtful Questions, and seek a working consensus with your class on how to make the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay a success.  Below are six “framing questions”, cornerstone questions that must be answered before we can build a solution, with links to the Bay Journal articles for your consideration.  You will see the Bay Journal is talking about many of the same issues that SCE Forum stakeholders are talking about.  These are real problems in search of workable solutions.


1. How do you develop the will to get it done?


Setting goals for the Bay's cleanup is futile unless we're also setting our minds to it

Action! Notes from the Director's Chair / By Rebecca Hanmer, director of the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program Office.

In the press and in legislative chambers across the watershed, the same question echoes: Can we reach the ambitious goals of restoring water quality in the Chesapeake and its tidal rivers by 2010?  Computer simulations estimate that we have pared the nitrogen load by 71 million pounds in 20 years but we need at least another 90 million pounds more reduction.  Some are hopeful we can achieve the 2010 goal, but many argue that the deadline is beyond reach. How can it be that in 2007 we are so far from our pollution reduction targets?  Read this article to see how the confluence of science and political initiative is the answer.


2. How do you build a community consensus that makes it easier for local elected officials to pass Bay friendly laws and ordinances?


Local governments must share responsibility, efforts for Bay cleanup

Penny Gross is on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and is chair of the Local Government Advisory Committee to the Chesapeake Executive Council.

In the mid-1990s the chair of the Local Government Advisory Committee, in a Bay Journal editorial, suggested five ways that the Bay Program could increase local government involvement in restoration -  greater recognition and support of local accomplishments; information and technical assistance; education about restoration for constituents; a greater sense of local “ownership” of restoration objectives; and a sharper focus/vision for the future Bay watershed.  Penny Gross’ editorial tells of some promising initiatives and lays out the challenges facing small communities who want to help the Bay.


Eco-friendly development on Rappahannock wins over VA activists

By Associated Press

Read how environmentalist John Tippett’s conservation group first opposed a new development on the banks of the Rappahannock River and then later, after the county approved construction, joined with the developer to design a model community.  This is the story of how an environmental group turned a setback into an asset.


3. In most cases, efforts to clean up non point source pollution are voluntary and, even when there is money available to help cover some of the costs involved, real success depends on a majority of the people taking action.  So, the question is - Does voluntary work?  If not, what are the alternatives?


Compelling look at why voluntary strategies aren't in Patuxent's best interest

Forum / By Dennis M King  a research professor for the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and president of King and Associates Inc., an environmental and economic consulting firm.

The Patuxent River is the largest river totally contained in Maryland, and its watershed is often considered to be a microcosm of the Chesapeake Bay’s watershed.  Nutrient discharges are threatening the health of this river in ways that have been known for at least 25 years. During this period, federal, state and county governments entered into agreements, signing memorandums of understanding, set goals and ratified plans to deal with the problem; yet the health of the river continues to deteriorate.  This article by Dennis King, a research professor at the University of Maryland, discusses the balance between an individual’s desires and the public good.


4. After we work out the “getting society behind it” part, there is still the “paying for it” part to figure out.  Can we find solutions that pay for themselves, or even turn into moneymakers?


Manure digestion could provide chicken farmers with power, income

Forum / By Charles Wachsmuth

Did you know it is possible to get energy from manure?  Mr. Wachsmuth says it is time to “reject the tyranny of the status guo” and implement a demonstration project to harvest the energy that is in poultry litter.  Manure for energy – what’s not to like?



5. Can we get major point source polluters to help pay for cleaning up non point pollution? 


EPA proposal for Blue Plains would slash nitrogen discharges

But the proposal for the wastewater treatment plant does not say when the reductions would take place

By Karl Blankenship

A boost for Potomac River water quality and the Bay cleanup came when the EPA proposed strict new limits for the region’s largest wastewater treatment plant that could eventually slash millions of pounds of nitrogen pollution annually.  Karl discusses some of the struggles of improving one of the worlds larges wastewater treatment plants including community concerns, funding issues, and coordinating multiple government agencies.


Ready to trade: PA approves policy to exchange nutrients

Controversial plan to allow trades between point and nonpoint sources draws criticism from scientists, environmentalists

By Karl Blankenship

Pennsylvania environmental officials are hoping to boost Bay cleanup efforts with a new program that allows for the buying and selling of pollution credits.  The EPA issued its final, but controversial, policy governing nutrient trading at the end of December 2006. This is definitely “not the same old thing”.  Read about the pros and cons of this plan and learn just how hard it can be to satisfy all stakeholder groups.


6. One last question, not discussed in the February Bay Journal, is of great importance to the staff at Cacapon Institute (we're the organization that run's the SCE Forum).  The question relates to tradeoffs between reducing agricultural contributions to the Bay's problems, and maintaining an economically healthy farming community that continues to produce agricultural products in the Chesapeake Bay region.  The question is this – "what do we do if the effort needed to reduce agricultural pollution to the levels required to meet the Bay Program's goals is greater than the farm community can undertake and still remain economically viable?"    


We have no specific guidance to offer for answering this question.  It is the perfect kind of question to be addressed by a diverse stakeholder group that represents the interests of their community.  A group like you have in your classroom.  Here are a three sub-questions that might help a bit: 

·         Do you think that it is important to keep good farm land available for growing food, or is it ok to grow houses on it instead? 

·         Can you propose an approach to dealing with this issue that would address both the farmer's need to make a living and the Bay's need to have clean water?

·         - and could that approach be structured in a way that farmers would still want to farm.

You might want to re-read the Native Guide essays from Matt Monroe and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation as you think through this question.


Good luck!