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New CPR Analysis: Chesapeake Bay TMDL Failure Looms

Climate Justice

NEWS RELEASE: Analysis of EPA TMDL Data Documents Looming Failure by Chesapeake Bay States to Meet 2017 Pollution-Reduction Goals

In Report & Letters to EPA and Governors, CPR Authors Call on Bay States to Step Up, and on EPA to Begin Enforcement Actions

A new analysis from the Center for Progressive Reform concludes that the efforts of the U.S. Environmental Protect Agency (EPA) to restore the Chesapeake Bay to health is veering off course because of state failures to reduce pollution and EPA’s reluctance to compel state compliance. “Countdown to 2017: Five Years in, Chesapeake Bay TMDL at Risk Without EPA Enforcement” examines progress by the six Bay watershed states and the District of Columbia as they work to reach an EPA-mandated overall “Total Maximum Daily Load” (TMDL) for the Bay, a sort of “pollution diet,” as well as many TMDLs for local waters. The report authors, in letters to EPA and the Bay state governors, note that Pennsylvania’s failures threaten to undermine the entire TMDL, and urge specific reforms for all jurisdictions.

The landmark TMDL agreement between the states and EPA has been considered a model for other watersheds, but with key 2017 interim goals approaching, CPR’s analysis of EPA data finds that several states in the region have fallen behind, endangering the entire effort. The analysis singles out Pennsylvania’s failure to make reductions in its agricultural sector as the most severe threat to achieving the TMDL. In addition, the authors note that several states have made sufficient progress to reach the 2017 goals, but in ways that will position them poorly to meet the final 2025 TMDL.

According to the report co-author, CPR Member Scholar and University of Maryland Carey School of Law professor Rena Steinzor, “The TMDL is the Bay’s last best hope for stopping the Chesapeake from becoming one of the world’s largest dead zones. Voluntary state cooperation has blown past deadline after deadline for restoring the Bay. But it’s becoming clear that Pennsylvania’s foot dragging, and weaknesses in all the other state plans will doom that effort unless, at this crucial midpoint, EPA takes tough action.”

Steinzor’s co-author, CPR Chesapeake Bay analyst co-author Evan Isaacson, added, “Simply put, the success of the Bay pollution-reduction agreement is in serious jeopardy. States throughout the Bay have had different levels of success in meeting the TMDL goals, but unless state governments take swift action soon, the entire project will be derailed and Bay communities will be deprived of the Bay’s natural beauty, as well as its recreational and economic contributions.”

The EPA has several enforcement tools available to compel the states to better meet the TMDL goals, but has yet to implement them, Steinzor and Isaacson write. In a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, they urged EPA  to take swift action, writing,  “Our ultimate conclusion is that unless you warn the states, especially Pennsylvania, in no uncertain terms that they will face the more stringent consequences you have originally established for failure to meet their Bay TMDL milestone commitments, the restoration effort is doomed to fail. Or, in other words, any objective reading of the data shows that without your very strong intervention, we can know today what will happen in 2025: yet another broken promise to the people of the Bay states.”

Steinzor and Isaacson also sent letters to the Governors of all seven Bay watershed jurisdictions, sharing their state-specific analyses and urging specific reforms tailored to their successes and shortcomings.

The report analyzes each state’s progress in meeting the goals, finding:

  • Delaware has made some progress but must double down on its efforts to reduce nutrient pollution from poultry litter and agricultural runoff generally to meet its 2017 goals. See letter to Delaware governor.
  • The District of Columbia will meet its nitrogen reduction goals because of significant investments in the Blue Plains wastewater treatment plant, but the District will need to address stormwater runoff to meet each of its 2025 goals. See letter to D.C. mayor.
  • Maryland’s major investments in municipal wastewater treatment plants will likely be sufficient to put the state on track to meet its overall 2017 goals, but if the state is to fully comply with the Bay TMDL by 2025 it will need to address pollution from other sectors, which remain well behind their goals for 2017 and 2025. See letter to Maryland governor.
  • New York is one of only two states going backwards in reducing nitrogen pollution under the Bay TMDL, and its lack of progress, particularly in the agricultural sector, continues to degrade the waters of the state’s Southern Tier. See letter to New York governor.
  • Pennsylvania has almost no chance to achieve its Bay TMDL 2017 interim nitrogen reduction goals due to unacceptably high pollution loads from agriculture, stormwater and septic systems. See letter to Pennsylvania governor.
  • Virginia is on track to meet its overall 2017 interim nitrogen reduction goals, but the wastewater pollution reductions that have made that possible will not be enough to reach 2025 goals. See letter to Virginia governor.
  • West Virginia has made modest progress toward meeting the Bay TMDL’s 2017 interim goals for nitrogen, but is far behind on issuing permits to concentrated animal feeding operations and implementing nutrient management plans. Taking these actions to reduce agricultural pollution and upgrades to additional wastewater treatment plants could position the state to meet 2017 goals. See letter to West Virginia governor.

Read more and download the full report at

The Center for Progressive Reform is a nonprofit research and educational organization with a network of Member Scholars working to protect health, safety, and the environment through analysis and commentary. Read CPRBlog. Follow us on Twitter. Like us on Facebook.

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