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CPR Issue Alert: EPA Raps Chesapeake Bay States for their Weak Restoration Commitments

Climate Justice

Pennsylvania, the source of nearly half of the nitrogen that makes its way into the Chesapeake Bay, is falling dangerously behind in controlling the pollutant. Delaware is dragging its feet on issuing pollution-control permits to industrial animal farms and wastewater treatment plants. Maryland has fallen behind on reissuing expired stormwater permits and is not on track to meet that sector’s pollution-reduction goals.

These are some of the findings of a series of reports the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued late last week. EPA assessed the progress the seven jurisdictions within the Bay watershed—Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C.—were making toward meeting the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), a sort of “pollution diet” that is at the heart of the federally led plan to restore the Chesapeake Bay by 2025.

Along with the reports, EPA announced that it would create consequences for states that are falling behind. It will immediately increase its oversight of Pennsylvania’s agriculture sector and has proposed increasing oversight of specific sectors in Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia unless the states meet certain conditions. EPA also threatened to withhold grant money in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia unless deadlines are met.

CPR’s newest Issue Alert, co-authored by Rena Steinzor and me, breaks down each jurisdiction’s progress and challenges in meeting the TMDL’s deadlines. In the Alert, we applaud EPA for demonstrating its willingness to take action against lagging jurisdictions.

Indeed, many jurisdictions are lagging. The agency found that planned reductions in nitrogen fell short of reaching the TMDL’s 2017 target by nearly 6 million pounds. The most common shortcoming involved inadequate urban/suburban stormwater management; of the seven jurisdictions, only Delaware had sufficient measures in place to reduce this pollutant. EPA also found the systems for tracking pollution reductions in all jurisdictions but Virginia lacking.

Of the covered jurisdictions, EPA found the milestones submitted by Pennsylvania and Delaware to be the least sufficient. EPA found Pennsylvania’s failure to rein in pollution particularly concerning since the state is the source of about half of the nitrogen that makes its way into the Bay.

The TMDL process stands apart from earlier cooperative agreements that yielded few results because it actually has teeth. With these evaluations, EPA seems to be demonstrating its willingness to use those teeth by taking action against states that are in danger of not meeting their pollution targets. The TMDL process is steadily marching towards the finish line, and we applaud EPA for playing a critical role in ensuring that each jurisdiction keeps up. EPA is bound to get pushback, making it all the more important that it stick to its guns. Jurisdictions that are not on track to meet the pollution diet must face consequences if we are to achieve any progress in restoring the Chesapeake Bay.

Climate Justice

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