Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Is In Jeopardy; If The EPA Is Unwilling To Act, We Will

In a show of solidarity unprecedented in the history of the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort, citizen groups, a county and four Bay jurisdictions have put the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on notice that we won’t allow it to give up on clean water.

In late May, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and its partners — the Maryland Watermen’s Association; Anne Arundel County, MD; and Virginia cattle farmers Jeanne Hoffman and Bobby Whitescarver — filed a Notice of Intent to sue the EPA for its failure to require Pennsylvania and New York to develop plans that will achieve the 2025 Bay restoration goals in accordance with the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. The attorneys general of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia also filed their own notices of intent to sue.

The reason is simple. The Blueprint is our last, best chance to achieve the fishable, swimmable waters guaranteed by the Clean Water Act. As the only entity with the authority to enforce the state’s commitments to reduce pollution, the EPA’s inaction puts the success of the entire restoration, and all of the progress we’ve made, at risk. The agency can choose a different course.

The Clean Water Act requires providing the EPA with a notice of intent 60 days before a lawsuit can be filed, giving the agency the opportunity to resolve issues without litigation. There are a number of steps the EPA can and should take.

First, the EPA must use its authority under the Clean Water Act to ensure that Pennsylvania and New York develop plans that meet their commitments for reducing nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution in waterways that feed into the Bay by 2025. These commitments were agreed upon by all of the Bay jurisdictions in the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Agreement, which the EPA is mandated to uphold. At present, neither Pennsylvania nor New York have submitted plans that achieve their share of reductions.

Second, the EPA should lead federal efforts to provide additional resources to reduce pollution and help the states achieve their goals, including targeting federal agriculture conservation dollars to the most effective practices and locations. This is especially critical in Pennsylvania, where elected officials have not invested sufficient funds to support farmers and local conservationists who are working on the ground to reduce pollution in waterways.

Taking the actions necessary to reduce pollution will support local businesses, create jobs, and provide additional environmental and public health benefits.

We encourage the EPA to take these steps, but we are also fully prepared to use litigation if the agency does not enforce the Clean Water Act and hold these states accountable.

After decades of failed commitments, the Blueprint is working. Pollution is down, and crabs are rebounding. The dead zone in the Bay is getting smaller over time — this year, the volume of low-oxygen water is expected to be 9% lower than the 34-year average.

We’re only five years away from the Blueprint’s 2025 deadline. Clean water is essential to our region’s health, economy, outdoor heritage and quality of life. The EPA must be held accountable now if we are going to leave a legacy of clean water to future generations.

Lisa Feldt is vice president for Environmental Protection and Restoration at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

The views expressed by opinion columnists are not necessarily those of the Bay Journal.