Spending on sewage and storm-water treatment alone could support about 230,000 jobs in the region over the next 14 years, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation report found. That spending will be necessary to meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requirements to reduce pollution in the bay.
The report comes as a debate rages in Washington over whether environmental and other regulations hurt the economy. Business groups and Republicans in the House of Representatives have called for repealing many federal rules, while environmentalists and Democrats in the Senate have resisted the effort.
"Clean air and clean water creates jobs," said William C. Baker, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's president, who said the argument that environmental regulations add to joblessness is "nothing less than absurd."
Republicans took control of the House in the 2010 midterm election in part on a promise to eliminate federal regulations that they say hamper economic growth at a time of high unemployment. The GOP platform stated that "excessive federal regulation is a de facto tax on employers and consumers that stifles job creation."
Since then, the House has passed a series of bills to roll back specific rules and change the way regulations are drafted. In February, House lawmakers approved a provision by Virginia Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte that would have cut funding for a bay restoration plan to limit the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment released into the water.
EPA regulations require bay states to cut those pollutants by 15 percent to 25 percent by 2025. Goodlatte called the effort overzealous and said it would result in "billions of dollars in economic losses."
Democrats in the Senate have killed those anti-regulation measures, including Goodlatte's. At the same time, the Obama administration has adopted several new high-profile environmental rules, including curbs on power plant emissions of mercury.
The foundation report cited a Maryland clean-air law passed by the General Assembly in 2006 as an example of how environmental rules can create jobs. Strict emission standards included in that state law forced Constellation Energy to install scrubbers at its Brandon Shores power plant in Anne Arundel County. The company hired 1,300 construction workers to build the equipment and employs 32 people to operate it.
Yet many of the jobs anticipated in the report result from temporary construction work and some would be government positions. Patricia Langenfelder, president of the Maryland Farm Bureau, said those public-sector jobs mean more government spending and higher taxes for everyone.
"Folks who have managed to keep their jobs during this economic downturn surely cannot afford higher taxes to create new ones in the environmental sector," she said in a statement.
She also said it is unlikely that the new regulations for the bay would do anything but shed agriculture jobs.
"The additional cost to farmers … may result in lost jobs as farms go out of business trying to pay for the additional requirements that add no additional value to the products they are growing and selling," she said.