Gov. McDonnell to host meeting on Chesapeake Bay issues

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Gov. Bob McDonnell will host a meeting on Chesapeake Bay restoration as Virginia begins the second phase of its watershed improvement plan, the state's top environmental official said Monday.

Secretary of Natural Resources Doug Domenech said the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council will meet July 11 in Richmond. Participating along with McDonnell will be the governors of Maryland and Pennsylvania, the mayor of Washington, D.C., and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson. West Virginia, New York and Delaware also are expected to send representatives, he said.

The states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed have submitted to the EPA their plans for restoring the bay. Domenech said Virginia spent much of 2010 in a "give and take" with the EPA over the state's plan, which he said will cost more than $8 billion in public and private money over the next 15 years. Virginia submitted a revised plan in November after its first one was criticized as insufficient by environmentalists.

The EPA "will be announcing some tweaks" to the states' plans soon, Domenech said, and then Virginia officials will focus on the second phase, which will provide additional information on how localities will help meet the pollution-reduction goals. The first draft of the phase two plan is due to EPA by Dec. 1.

Domenech made the remarks during a wide-ranging news briefing on the progress of the McDonnell administration's environmental programs. On other issues, he and other state environmental officials said:

- The state has conserved more than 60,000 acres of land midway through the second year of McDonnell's term. That puts the administration behind schedule in its goal of protecting an additional 400,000 acres, but Domenech said the governor doesn't believe the state should be buying a lot of land, and fewer individuals are voluntarily giving up land for conservation because of the economy.

- While the world's climate is warming and "humans might be part of the cause," the science of global warming is mixed and it's difficult to say what the state could do that would make much difference in slowing the trend. There are no plans to renew the climate change commission that operated during the term of McDonnell's predecessor, Democrat Tim Kaine.

- Virginia is likely to experience freshwater supply problems in the future and should begin looking for solutions now. The state already frequently endures periods of drought. "We think of ourselves as having a lot of water until we don't," Domenech said.

- The state is forging ahead with plans to harvest offshore wind as a renewable energy source, and it has bipartisan support in the General Assembly and Congress to pursue offshore oil and gas exploration. However, President Barack Obama's moratorium on East Coast drilling has taken Virginia out of the game until at least 2017.

Sierra Club officials who listened to the briefing said they are pleased with the administration's efforts on offshore wind but troubled by its views on global warming.

"Their position is inappropriate and frightening," said Tyla Matteson, the environmental organization's political chair.

Mary Rafferty, the club's grassroots organizer, said one of the problems caused by global warming is the droughts that have administration officials worried.