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Obama, states vow improved Chesapeake Bay cleanup

WASHINGTON, May 12 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama and several state officials on Tuesday announced a renewed effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, a once-productive waterway that has seen its crab and oyster populations plunge during decades of failed restoration attempts.

Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania set tougher targets to reduce the amount of pollutants flowing into the 200-mile-long (320 km) estuary, and said the cleanup would be completed by 2025.

Separately, Obama ordered the federal government to step up enforcement of existing pollution laws and come up with a plan to bring the bay back to health. Federal facilities within the bay’s watershed, including those in Washington, were ordered to reduce polluting runoff.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also said it would impose “strict” pollution caps by the end of 2010 and aim for “sharp reductions” in air pollutants that affect the bay.

The renewed efforts could lead to additional restrictions on agriculture, development and power-plant emissions in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, which stretches from upstate New York to Virginia and encompasses 16.6 million people.

For hundreds of years, the Chesapeake was one of the most productive fisheries in the United States. But its populations of shad, blue crabs and oysters have crashed as phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment from farms and urban areas created massive algae blooms that sucked oxygen out of the water.

A 25-year, $6 billion cleanup effort by state governments and the EPA has come under widespread criticism as it has repeatedly fallen short of its stated goals, and officials overstated their progress to keep funding in place.

With that in mind, governors of Maryland and Virginia and officials from other jurisdictions in the Bay’s watershed -- New York, Delaware, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Washington, D.C. -- said they would focus on short, two-year goals that would lead to a restored Bay by 2025.

Editing by Will Dunham