By Josh Kurtz
William C. Baker, longtime president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, announced Thursday that he plans to retire later this year after 40 years on the job.
Baker, 67, joined the CBF as an intern in 1976 and became its leader in 1981, transforming the organization from a local environmental group into a regional powerhouse that mixes advocacy with conservation work, education programs and community outreach. From a handful of employees when Baker came on board, CBF now has a staff of 200, with offices in Annapolis, Richmond, Va., Harrisburg, Pa., and Washington, D.C.
Baker’s retirement was first reported in The Bay Journal.
“I’m proud of the many things we have accomplished over the years. But there is a lot left to do in 2021 and beyond,” Baker said.
He connects the organization’s growth and impact in its half century to the progress that governments and stakeholders have made in cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.
While the CBF’s own studies have shown mixed progress when it comes to improving the Bay’s health, the seven states in the Bay watershed and the federal government are moving toward meeting pollution abatement goals by 2025 ― though it has not been a seamless process. In September, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration accusing the agency of violating the Clean Water Act by failing to enforce pollution reduction limits for two upstream states, Pennsylvania and New York.
“We stand on the precipice of saving this national treasure,” Baker said. “We, all who are involved across the Bay’s vast watershed, are making history. Saving the Chesapeake Bay can be the greatest environmental success this country has ever seen.”
Tributes to Baker rolled in from Maryland leaders Thursday.
“It has been a privilege to work with Will over the last 30 years, from my time in the General Assembly to now,” U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said in a statement. “I am grateful to have counted on Will as a partner in our many efforts ― from fighting to prevent slant drilling in sensitive areas around the Bay, to pushing for increased federal funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program, to providing support for farmers to prevent agricultural runoff, and most recently, securing the enactment of the Chesapeake WILD Act.”
U.S. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., said Baker “leaves behind an unmatched legacy as a dedicated advocate for the Chesapeake Bay.”
Elizabeth Oliver-Farrow, the chair of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation board, said she and her colleagues are “committed to a broad and thorough search for a new president. I am confident we will find a replacement who shares our passion and commitment and will guide our work in restoring this national treasure.”
Josh Kurtz is the editor of Maryland Matters, a sibling site of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this story first appeared.