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Nov. 1, 2018 by David Flores

Bay Journal Op-Ed: State Pollution-Permitting Must Be Reformed to Adapt to Climate Change

This op-ed originally ran in the Bay Journal. Reprinted with permission.

Recent extreme weather — Hurricanes Harvey and Florence — caused widespread toxic contamination of floodwaters after low-lying chemical plants, coal ash storage facilities and hog waste lagoons were inundated.

Such storm-driven chemical disasters demonstrate that state water pollution permitting programs are overdue for reforms that account for stronger and more intense hurricanes and heavy rainfall events, sea level rise and extreme heat.

As the District of Columbia and the states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed prepare their final watershed implementation plans for cleaning up the Bay, two important lessons should be clear from the recent disasters: First, climate change will greatly complicate Bay cleanup efforts and must therefore be factored into planning. Second, the state regulation of pollution sources can and should be a critical component of the plan.

The potential pollution implications of climate change are many and varied for the Bay watershed:

  • Where sunny-day flooding now occurs on a weekly basis in parts of DC, Maryland and Virginia, accelerating sea levels will cause nuisance flooding on a near-daily basis in the next 20–30 years.  
  • Sea level rise also raises the prospect that seawater will intrude into coastal groundwater …

Aug. 27, 2018 by Elena Franco
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This post is part of a series about climate change and the increasing risk of floods releasing toxic chemicals from industrial facilities. It is based on a forthcoming article that will be published in the Sustainable Development Law & Policy Brief.

As climate change makes extreme weather events increasingly frequent, the risk of flooding on our rivers and shores increases. As I noted in a previous post in this series, this puts us at risk for toxic flooding – the combination of floodwaters and industrial toxic spills unleashed during flooding events. Although the storms themselves are not preventable, we can at least avoid placing toxic chemicals in the path of floodwaters. So what role can the American people play in developing stronger, more proactive policies designed to prevent, rather than merely respond to, toxic flooding? 

The good news is that existing federal and state environmental laws provide vehicles …

July 27, 2018 by Evan Isaacson
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Today, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Office of the Environmental Protection Agency officially released its assessment of Chesapeake Bay restoration progress. This marked the formal conclusion of the multi-year process known as the "midpoint assessment" for the Chesapeake's cleanup plan.

2017 represents the halfway point for the cleanup, at which time state and federal partners were supposed to have reached 60 percent of their final 2025 nutrient and sediment pollution reduction targets. Unfortunately, 2017 will go down as another in a long line of missed deadlines for the Bay.

Several weeks ago, the Chesapeake Bay Program released the official progress data on the 2017 interim pollution reduction targets. The data reveal that for nitrogen, long considered the limiting pollutant in the Bay TMDL cleanup plan, the seven Chesapeake jurisdictions and all sources combined were only a …

July 25, 2018 by Evan Isaacson
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This post is part of a series on Judge Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

President Trump's nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court has enormous environmental and public health implications – true of any high court nomination, but particularly true in this case because he would replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, the high court's long-time swing vote.

As it stands, Kavanaugh has already had an outsized impact on the shape and direction of environmental law in the United States. A review of Kavanaugh's judicial opinions shows that he has been one of the most prolific writers of environmental law decisions over the last decade on what is considered the nation's second-highest court, and the one with jurisdiction over much of the federal regulatory system. Only one other judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of …

June 22, 2018 by Evan Isaacson
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This is an update to an earlier post explaining why the release of EPA’s TMDL expectations is important. These posts are part of an ongoing series on the midpoint assessment and long-term goals of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort. 

This week, EPA’s Mid-Atlantic regional office released its final expectations for how states and their federal partners are to implement the third and final phase of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup process, which runs from 2018 to 2025. The good news is that the document is generally consistent with previous drafts and the expectations of Bay advocates. 

In my previous post, included below, I emphasized that the document would be a bellwether signaling the extent to which EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt or other Trump administration officials are overtly or publicly interfering with the future of the Bay cleanup process known as the Chesapeake Bay TMDL. At least …

June 11, 2018 by David Flores
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This op-ed originally ran in the Bay Journal. Reprinted with permission.

Science is hard, environmental policy is complicated and regulatory science can seem endlessly confounding.

It does not have to be. Earlier this year, the Chesapeake Bay partners stepped into a time-worn trap, heeding calls from overly cautious states to wait for more refined scientific modeling of climate change impacts before taking action to eliminate pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Having punted action until 2021 at the earliest, the Bay Partnership needs policies to prevent further delay. An innovative policy tool called "stopping rules" could be the answer.

Chesapeake Bay Program scientists have determined that Bay states need to eliminate an additional 9 million pounds of nitrogen pollution and 500,000 pounds of phosphorus to offset the impacts of climate change and ensure that dissolved oxygen standards can be met in the Bay by …

Nov. 17, 2017 by Evan Isaacson
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Everyone should be paying attention to the tax "reform" bills making their way through Congress. Whether you are a concerned citizen, a volunteer activist, or a career advocate, chances are the tax legislation will do much more than increase or lower your tax bill.

Much of the mainstream media and financial press, along with some public finance scholars and think tanks, are doing a thorough job of explaining what the tax bills will mean for the rich and the middle class, for corporate taxes overall and some specific tax deductions and loopholes.

It is worthwhile to focus our attention on the overall economic impact of the proposed tax cut and how it will further increase social inequality in America. Certainly it is worth asking why we so desperately need a tax cut when the rich keep getting even richer, corporate profits are booming, the stock markets are …

Aug. 16, 2017 by Evan Isaacson
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It's that time of year again. No, I don't mean time for back-to-school sales, last-ditch beach getaways, or Shark Week re-runs. Instead, I'm referring to the time of year when we're once again reminded just how sick our waterways are.

Every year around this time, we read about massive dead zones and toxic algal blooms infecting large swaths of our nation's inland and coastal waters. The combination of warming water temperatures and fertilizer runoff during the growing season leads to vast areas of lifelessness for many waterways and aquatic ecosystems.

America's rivers and streams flush the excess nutrients that are applied to, or fall upon, our landscape. When these pollutants finally settle out in our estuaries, deltas, gulfs, and coastal bays, they feed a great swirl of life and death. The fertilizers not taken up by crops or land-based ecosystems instead feed algae, which decompose in a …

July 13, 2017 by Evan Isaacson
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This post builds from an interview with the author for WYPR's The Environment in Focus with Tom Pelton, a portion of which aired on Wednesday, July 12, 2017.

One question I've been asked a number of times over the last several years is, "What does the Clean Water Rule mean for the Chesapeake Bay?" With EPA's recent proposal to repeal the rule, I'm once again hearing questions and speculation about what this repeal will mean for the Bay watershed.

I think the average person is rightly confused about the Clean Water Rule, sometimes called the Waters of the United States rule, and why they hear so much about it. Whereas most disputes involving environmental law are about providing the right standard or level of protection, the Clean Water Rule was simply about drawing clear boundary lines around waters that are and are not protected by the …

June 14, 2017 by Evan Isaacson
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With a massive, proposed 31 percent cut to his agency looming in the background, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is preparing to visit Capitol Hill for an appearance before a House Appropriations subcommittee on Thursday. Lawmakers, their staff, and others are likely and understandably focused on the Paris climate agreement withdrawal, the Trump administration's proposal to end federal financial support for programs that help protect and restore a variety of Great Waters like the Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes, and damaging staff cuts that would cripple the agency's ability to protect our health and our environment. But we should be looking beyond the big-ticket items to fully assess the damage that Pruitt and President Trump are proposing to do. 

As someone who focuses on the vitality and sustainability of the Chesapeake Bay and other Great Waters in the United States, I'm convinced that the president's plans to …

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