"One of the most important things we can do as lawyers for the Bay is to try to make the law real for people, so they understand how it affects our communities and our natural resources. It isn't just words in a statute," says Jon Mueller, CBF's Vice President for Litigation.
Mueller's ability to illuminate the real-life implications of the law helped to bring about one of CBF's most significant legal victories to date: confirming the legality of the Bay clean-up plan, the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, in federal court.
The Blueprint had been challenged by a coalition of powerful lobby groups, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, which claimed that the Blueprint represented an overreach of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). CBF, EPA, and several partner groups countered, stating federal oversight is the very feature that makes the Blueprint so effective. It establishes accountability, whereas past attempts to restore the Bay failed because they were reliant upon voluntary efforts to reduce pollution by each of the Bay states.
Presenting CBF's position in federal appeals court, Mueller told the story of Charles Parks, a waterman who became a CBF educator after finding that he could no longer sustain a living on the Bay—the crab and fish populations were too depleted by pollution. CBF's argument resonated. The court recited information from our brief about watermen and wildlife in its written opinion. Although the Farm Bureau attempted to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, the high court decided in February not to hear the case, ending a five-year legal battle and ensuring that Bay restoration under the Blueprint will continue.
"This decision gives the Bay the best chance it's ever had to actually be restored," says Mueller. "Now there is a mandate requiring that pollution reductions be obtained."
That the Supreme Court's decision effectively upheld the Blueprint gives hope to other polluted bodies of water that, like the Bay, span state lines. "This was one of the most important environmental cases of the decade," says Oliver Houck, professor at Tulane University Law School. "[It] affirms the right of states and the federal government to protect a resource beyond the jurisdiction of any one of them, but within the embrace of them all."
Mueller warns that there's still work ahead to ensure that the Bay is restored. He notes that CBF and other citizen groups have a vital role to play in making sure that the state and federal governments follow through with their plans to reduce pollution. Still, for a moment, we can rejoice in a victory that was five years in the making. "I'm grateful for the fantastic support from our donor base and from other citizen organizations in the Bay region. Working on this case was a great honor," he says.
We were over the moon on February 29 when we heard the news that the U.S. Supreme Court has denied the request of the American Farm Bureau Federation and its allies to take up their challenge to the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, CBF President Will Baker and Vice President of Litigation Jon Mueller explain why this is so historic and what's next for the Bay clean-up.
Photo Credits: 1. CBF Staff, 2. Bill Portlock/CBF Staff, 3. iStock, 4. Jay Fleming.