After rain pummeled Mid-Atlantic States in recent weeks, Maryland officials publicly lamented the masses of trash flowing into Chesapeake Bay — and blamed two states to the north.
One Maryland official called the pileup of woody debris, plastic bottles and broken Styrofoam an “aesthetic assault.” Another called it an “insult” to the bay and an environmental crisis that could reverse years of progress toward reducing pollution in the country’s largest estuary.
As destructive storms hit in late July, officials opened more than 20 floodgates in the Conowingo Dam in northern Maryland, pushing floating garbage and debris down the Susquehanna River from upstream states.
But whose trash is it? And who is responsible for cleaning it up?
“The upstream states, Pennsylvania and New York, need to step up and take responsibility for their sediment and their debris that is pouring into our bay,” Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland said at a public works meeting on Aug. 1.
Maryland officials from both parties have urged upstream states and the dam’s operator, Exelon Corporation, to take partial responsibility for the widespread mess. Officials said the waste that accompanied the highest water flow through the dam in seven years was not just unsightly — it was also a danger to boats that populate the bay, which is known for its commercial fishing of blue crabs and oysters.
Ben Grumbles, secretary of Maryland’s Department of the Environment, said that at least two million tons of sediment that had been trapped behind the dam entered the bay within days; that’s more than a year’s worth of sediment from the Susquehanna River under normal conditions.
“From our perspective, the polluters should pay,” he said in an interview.
But officials from Pennsylvania and New York have not taken kindly to Maryland’s moral appeals.
Last week, Patrick McDonnell, secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, called comments by Maryland officials “careless and insensitive” in light of the disastrous impact the flooding has had on his state.
“Finger-pointing is not something that’s going to accomplish our goals,” Mr. McDonnell said in an interview. “We all need to be working cooperatively together.”
As for New York, the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, Basil Seggos, rejected the suggestion that the state was responsible for a significant portion of the debris that flowed through the Susquehanna River and into the bay. The river, which contributes about half of the bay’s fresh water, starts in Cooperstown, a village in central New York.
“If the water quality of Chesapeake Bay were as high quality as the Susquehanna River’s when it flows out of New York, Chesapeake Bay would not be impaired,” Mr. Seggos said in a statement.
There are no clear federal regulations that deal with the transfer of this kind of pollution from one state to another, causing officials to resort to an interstate war of words, said Robert Percival, a professor of environmental law at the University of Maryland.
In this case, the legal foundation for compelling Pennsylvania and New York to clean up debris that flowed into Maryland’s waterways is murky, he said.
Decontaminating Chesapeake Bay has been a national political issue since the late 1970s, when Congress funded a $27 million study analyzing the causes of the bay’s dwindling wildlife and marine life.
Over the decades, toxic contaminants have tainted the bay through wastewater and air pollution, as well as agricultural and stormwater runoff. In the bay, excess levels of nitrogen and phosphorus have led to a nearly two-cubic-mile “dead zone” that can suffocate aquatic life. High levels of sediment that clouds the water have also damaged the bay’s ecosystem over time.
In 2009, President Barack Obama issued an executive order requiring annual documentation of progress toward reducing pollution in the bay and state collaboration in improving the water quality.
Federal backing for restoring the bay has been more precarious under the Trump administration.
Two years in a row, President Trump proposed in his annual budget to drastically slash federal funding for the Chesapeake Bay cleanup. Both times, Congress passed a funding bill that kept the financing intact.
On top of concerns about future funding, Maryland officials fear that the recent deluge of debris through the Conowingo Dam has set back the cleanup process by years.
Mr. Grumbles, Maryland’s environmental secretary, said the long-term effort to increase the bay’s water quality required contribution from all six of the states in the watershed. But he and other Maryland officials are not afraid of calling out states they believe are lagging.
“While Maryland is making progress toward meeting all of the targets, Pennsylvania is just limping along behind,” Peter Franchot, Maryland’s comptroller, said in an interview.
According to an Environmental Protection Agency report on Pennsylvania’s progress in eliminating toxins from its waters from 2009 to 2017, the state missed its targets for reducing nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment runoffs.
Most of Pennsylvania’s nitrogen load comes from agricultural runoff, which has made the decontamination effort a politically “explosive” issue in the state because it involves the interests of farmers, said Mr. Percival, the environmental law professor.
In 2009, an E.P.A. report showed that Pennsylvania was responsible for about 44 percent of the nitrogen that flows into the bay, which is partly because Pennsylvania has more land in the watershed than other states.
In a statement, Mr. McDonnell, Pennsylvania’s environmental secretary, called Maryland officials “hypocritical” for placing blame on his state when Maryland did not reach its 2017 nitrogen targets either. (Neither did New York, although both New York and Maryland met their goals for phosphorus.)
At a meeting on Tuesday of the Chesapeake Executive Council, which includes the governors of all states in the watershed, this apparent antagonism over cleaning up the bay was replaced with an outward display of collaboration — and even a concession from Pennsylvania on its shortcomings.
Mr. McDonnell said in an interview that he was aware his state was behind in reducing pollution levels, and officials there are working to address the problem.
Ann Swanson, who has led the bay restoration effort for nearly 30 years, said this unusual bout of discord between the states was an unnecessary distraction from the long-term effort to rid the bay of pollutants.
The concentration of debris in the bay after the record-setting rainfall was significant but not unprecedented, said Ms. Swanson, who is executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, a multistate agency that advises legislatures on bay-related policy.
“We’ve had big storms like this, and we’ll have more big storms like this,” she said. “The best thing we can do is continue to make progress in helping our farmers control pollutant loads and helping our cities control stormwater.”
Right now, Maryland is focused on ridding itself of this invasive trash and debris, officials said. Since the floodgates were raised, state workers have been working to clear navigation channels of tires and trees, and ridding state beaches of lingering trash so people can swim again.
Maryland isn’t seeking to shift responsibility for the health of the bay only onto the upstream states.
State officials say they believe that Exelon, the operator of the 90-year-old dam, should also shoulder some of the burden. In a letter sent last week to Exelon’s chief executive, Christopher M. Crane, Maryland officials called on the company to provide resources to help remove the detritus from the bay.
Exelon obliged, pledging to donate $25,000 to a local nonprofit working to preserve the bay, as well as offering up its contractors and employees to aid in the cleanup, according to a letter from the company to Maryland officials. Earlier this year, Exelon sued Maryland after the state required the company to reduce pollution flowing from the dam in order to renew its lease to operate the massive power generator.
Record-setting rainfall of the sort that triggered the garbage dispute downstream is likely to become only more common in years to come, scientists say, because increasingly powerful storms are a byproduct of a warming climate.
After seeing the masses of garbage floating in the bay, Ms. Swanson also pointed out another source of blame apart from states and corporations. “Everyone who is using a plastic bottle should feel responsible,” she said.
Colyer Concedes in Kansas, Handing Governor’s Nomination to Kobach
Though Mr. Kobach and Mr. Colyer are each staunch conservatives, the matchup gave Kansas Republicans a choice between two distinct political styles: Mr. Kobach, who has spent years building a national profile, is a brash, outspoken ally of the president whose campaign rhetoric sometimes sounds like Mr. Trump’s, while Mr. Colyer is more measured in his speech and not known as well outside Kansas.
Tesla Directors Do Damage Control After Elon Musk Tweets
Members of Tesla’s board are scrambling to control a chief executive who some directors think is out of control.
Elon Musk, the electric-car maker’s co-founder and chief executive, stirred up a public storm by announcing on Twitter last week that he wanted to turn Tesla into a private company. In recent days, according to people familiar with the matter, some of his fellow board members delivered a stern message: Stop tweeting.
Mr. Musk hasn’t heeded that advice. He has continued to post messages on Twitter, publicly plotting the company’s strategy and in some cases making assertions of dubious accuracy. That has only added to the chaos engulfing the struggling company.
Tesla’s board members are also racing to inoculate themselves from the possible fallout from Mr. Musk’s public statements.
While it’s standard for boards to retain lawyers to counsel them on complicated matters, Tesla’s outside directors have hired two law firms to represent them.
The independent directors retained Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison to help deal with a Securities and Exchange Commission inquiry related to the posts, which is at an early stage but which directors expect could intensify into a full-blown investigation, one person said. And three of those directors have separately hired the law firm Latham & Watkins to advise them as they consider any proposal by Mr. Musk to take the company private.
Tesla declined to make Mr. Musk available for an interview.
The tumult is the latest blow to Tesla, which has been struggling financially and facing mounting questions from investors about the company’s ability to meet Mr. Musk’s ambitious financial targets.
Some members of the board have grown alarmed by what they see as Mr. Musk’s erratic behavior, according to three people familiar with some directors’ thinking. Directors were blindsided last week when Mr. Musk claimed on Twitter that he had “funding secured” for a possible deal to convert Tesla from a publicly traded company into a private one. Such a transaction would most likely cost well over $10 billion.
Mr. Musk said this week that he has been in talks with Saudi Arabia’s main government investment fund about possibly working on a deal to take Tesla private. But there were no indications that Mr. Musk has actually nailed down any commitments to bankroll such a transaction, and the Securities and Exchange Commission last week contacted the company about Mr. Musk’s Twitter posts, which drove up the company’s shares and prompted a halt in trading.
Even before the controversy over the going-private transaction, Tesla and its board of directors faced scrutiny because of multiple directors’ close ties to Mr. Musk.
One director is Mr. Musk’s brother, Kimbal. Others include Antonio Gracias and Steve Jurvetson, who are both directors of SpaceX, Mr. Musk’s rocket company. Mr. Jurvetson has been on leave from Tesla’s board since late last year, after he resigned from his venture-capital firm amid allegations of misconduct. He has denied those allegations. Tesla said Mr. Jurvetson has not participated in the board’s discussions on a possible buyout.
Another board member, Ira Ehrenpreis, is a SpaceX investor. Brad W. Buss had served as chief financial officer of SolarCity, the solar-panel maker run by Mr. Musk’s cousin and where Mr. Musk previously served as chairman. Tesla acquired SolarCity in 2016.
Until last year, the only director without direct ties to Mr. Musk was Robyn Denholm, chief executive of an Australian telecommunications company.
The board’s independence became an issue when Mr. Musk announced the acquisition of SolarCity, which was struggling at the time. Some institutional shareholders complained that the deal was not in Tesla’s best interest. Glass Lewis, a shareholder advisory service, called it a “thinly veiled bailout” of one of Mr. Musk’s outside investments.
The California State Teachers’ Retirement System and four other large investors subsequently called on Tesla to add outside directors and tighten its corporate governance.
In response, Tesla added two independent directors last year — James R. Murdoch, son of Rupert Murdoch and chief executive of 21st Century Fox, and Linda Johnson Rice, chairman and chief executive of Johnson Publishing. Even that move sparked controversy, however. Some investors objected to Mr. Murdoch’s addition because of his involvement in the phone-hacking scandal in which British tabloids run by the Murdoch family were found to have listened to voice mail messages of celebrities, politicians and a murdered teenager.
Board members’ past chumminess with Mr. Musk continues to present a problem.
One independent director’s personal relationship was deemed too close for him to sit on a committee the board established to evaluate Mr. Musk’s potential going-private transaction, according to two people familiar with the matter. As a result, that key committee only has three members.
Tesla has also been plagued by operational problems and it has struggled to meet Mr. Musk’s production targets for the Model 3 sedan, the company’s first mass-market offering and a vehicle he has said is crucial to company’s ability to become profitable.
“The issues facing Tesla relate to a lack of operational maturity,” said Roger McNamee, a Silver Lake founder who is now a managing director of the private-equity firm Elevation Partners. “The market has been remarkably patient as Tesla struggles to scale its manufacturing.”
That patience has been tested by Mr. Musk in recent months. He has publicly disparaged financial analysts and insulted a cave diver who was helping rescue members of a Thai soccer team.
Board members’ frustrations have intensified in recent days.
Directors were upset that Mr. Musk’s tweets forced them to rush out a public statement explaining a transaction that was at an embryonic stage, according to people familiar with the thinking of board members.
Multiple directors have recently told Mr. Musk that he should stop using Twitter, with one urging him to stick to building cars and launching rockets, according to people familiar with the board’s communications. Tesla employees, including the company’s public-relations staff, have echoed that point, another person said.
Late Monday, Mr. Musk was back on Twitter. He posted a message that he is “excited to work with Silver Lake and Goldman Sachs” as financial advisers on his proposal to privatize Tesla.
But neither Goldman nor Silver Lake — a private-equity firm focused on technology investments — had actually signed on with Tesla or Mr. Musk to play those roles, according to people familiar with the matter.
On Tuesday, Goldman was in talks with Tesla about a possible role, but had not finalized anything. Silver Lake, meanwhile, is interested in investing in any going-private deal, but it isn’t acting in a paid advisory capacity.
Michael J. de la Merced contributed reporting.
You Got the Flood Warning on Your Phone. Here’s What the Damage Looked Like.
A bride rescued from a flooded car. Trucks swept down the road by waist-high waters. Firefighters trapped during a rescue.
These scenes played out across New York and New Jersey over the last three days as a series of flash floods hit the region.
On Tuesday morning, Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey declared a state of emergency in five counties after the National Weather Service predicted more storms. During a visit to Passaic County on Monday, Mr. Murphy lamented the destruction.
“If you look at the lives who have been disrupted, in some cases from their homes, perhaps permanently, it’s heartbreaking,” Mr. Murphy said. “We can’t keep seeing this happen.”
In New York, Broome County was among the hardest hit. Speaking at a news conference there in Vestal, N.Y., Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said he had seen “significant issues across the state, issues in areas that normally don’t flood.”
Mr. Cuomo declared states of emergency in numerous upstate counties, including Monroe, Delaware, Seneca, Yates and Ontario, until Aug. 21.
Social media postings provided an intimate view of the destruction. In Wayne, N.J., residents stood back as cars and trucks were swept down the road by rushing waters.
On Tuesday, the Weather Service issued flood warnings to the counties of Essex, Passaic and Morris, while a flood advisory was sent to residents in the counties of Hunterdon and Warren.
Five Monmouth County beaches were closed, along with area bridges and roads, following strong downpours on Monday. Though some roads were reopened on Tuesday, Thomas A. Arnone, a Monmouth County official, urged residents to drive with caution.
“The county will continue working on all impacted areas as long as necessary and apprise residents of any changes in the coming days,” Mr. Arnone said.
Michael Laferrera, a police officer in the borough of Bogota, N.J., rescued a stranded bridal party on Saturday.
The bride and groom and two members of their wedding party were heading to their reception when rising waters stopped their car. The bride, Sabrina Torens of Dover, N.J., was wearing her wedding dress as Mr. Laferrera helped her through the sunroof.
“I was a little shocked because we do rescues from time to time, but never a bride and groom,” said Mr. Laferrera. “They were a little panicked. We were able to calm them down first, and then once they got to dry land they were just so happy and relieved.”
Soon after the rescue, the bride and groom were off to their honeymoon, Mr. Laferrera said.
In a Facebook post, Chief Daniel Maye said the newlyweds’ car had “water coming up to the middle of the car doors.”
“We were able to help them through their first rough patch,” the police department wrote on Facebook. “Obviously their day has not gone as planned.”
During Governor Cuomo’s tour of flooded towns in upstate New York on Tuesday, he said dozens residents and firefighters were trapped in Lodi, a town 40 minutes from Ithaca. Mr. Cuomo said residents had been ordered to evacuate but some didn’t leave. When firefighters tried to reach them, they were caught by flooding.
“The street was dry,” Mr. Cuomo recounted. “Fire department went in. Two hours later, there was rushing water waist-deep that was rushing so fast that, frankly, it was dangerous to walk through because you couldn’t even keep balance. That’s how fast a situation can become really dangerous.”
Everyone was rescued by the evening, said Michael Huff, captain of the Lodi fire department.
Mr. Cuomo said he understood that some people didn’t want to leave their homes, but urged residents to follow evacuation instructions. “Your home can be the most dangerous place,” he said.
In Brick, N.J., a flood on Monday forced residents to leave Greenbriar 1, a senior community. According to the Brick Township Police Department, 105 homes were evacuated after nearly 8 inches of fell in the area.
“Residents should not return to their homes without an escort for safety reasons,” the police department posted on Facebook.
John G. Ducey, the mayor, added that “they’re not going to be moving back anytime quickly.”
“This is the exact opposite of anywhere that flooded during Sandy,” Mr. Ducey said. “This is the northwest portion of town. It never flooded before. I never even got a complaint about water in the road.”
Some in New Jersey blamed the scale of the flooding on climate change — and politics. Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said that changes to waterway protections had left the state more vulnerable.
“We continue to see more and more flood events across our state, affecting homes and communities and putting our waterways at risk,” Mr. Tittel said.
“More development creates more impervious surfaces and destroys floodplains and wetlands,” he added. “This all contributes to increased flooding and storm water runoff, further putting communities at risk.”
Governor Murphy toured Little Falls and Woodland Park on Monday, after a flood wreaked havoc there on Sunday. According to Mr. Murphy, 400 homes were affected.
“What can we do to make sure we don’t keep seeing the same darn movie?” Mr. Murphy asked. “We got to get used to the fact that we’re in an new reality and we need to do something about it.”
Nick Corasaniti contributed reporting.