Saving the Chesapeake Bay: Time to Hold the States Accountable

by Ben Somberg

June 18, 2009

Today CPR releases Reauthorizing the Chesapeake Bay Program: Exchanging Promises for Results (press release, full report).

For years, the jurisdictions within the Chesapeake Bay watershed (the states and Washington D.C.) have essentially not faced consequences for failing to meet pollution-reduction targets. It's not surprising that the Chesapeake Bay has languished.

What the new CPR report recommends is almost an obvious next step: the states should face consequences for not meeting goals. The report calls on Congress to empower the EPA to impose penalties on jurisdictions that flunk.

The report says that Congress should reauthorize the Chesapeake Bay Program with changes to require Bay jurisdictions to set a statutory deadline of 2020 for Bay restoration, and require Bay jurisdictions to establish five sets of two-year milestones outlining the interim reduction requirements necessary to achieve that deadline. When jurisdictions fail to meet the milestones, the CPR report calls on Congress to authorize the EPA Administrator to:

  • Prohibit the issuance of new “point source” pollution permits (permits for known pollution sources);
  • Withdraw Nonpoint Source Management Program funding (Section 319 funding) and other financial assistance from jurisdictional partners and give it to the Bay Program to implement “nonpoint source” management programs.

The CPR report also proposes revamping the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) program for the Bay, which is not currently enforceable. The Clean Water Act does not expressly require that identified controls of nonpoint pollution sources (such as run-off from farms laden with manure, pesticides, and fertilizer) designed to meet a TMDL be put into action. In other words, the EPA is required to spend millions of dollars developing a TMDL plan without the legal authority to ensure that such a plan is actually implemented with respect to the largest sources of pollution in the Bay, nonpoint sources. CPR's report therefore recommends that Congress require that the Bay-wide TMDL be translated into stricter permit limits and mandatory nonpoint source controls within five years of EPA's approval of the permits and controls.

Cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay is going to require government action with teeth.

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