Effort to clean up Chesapeake Bay gets major budget boost. But advocates are still unhappy with Pennsylvania.
Daily Press (Newport News, VA)
Chesapeake Bay cleanup just got a big budget boost for fiscal 2020, pleasing bay advocates. But those advocates are urging the EPA to go after Pennsylvania for failing in its commitments to help restore the polluted estuary.
Pennsylvania has long been a laggard in the regional partnership to heal the bay, and now its cleanup plan falls short of its pollution-reduction goals for the 2025 deadline.
William Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, called it “no surprise" and said federal inaction is jeopardizing bay health.
“EPA has failed to fulfill its obligation to be the referee of the multi-state partnership,” Baker said in a statement. “It has not held Pennsylvania accountable. Rather, it has once again kicked the can down the road.”
CBF’s Pennsylvania Executive Director Harry Campbell said farmers, county conservation districts, sportsmen and others in that state are willing to pitch in -- plant cover crops and trees to prevent flooding and polluted runoff, for instance -- but lawmakers won’t make the needed investments.
“Our health, well being and quality of life depend on it,” Campbell said in a statement.
EPA oversees bay cleanup efforts and can impose consequences if states fall short. The agency recently reviewed the third and final watershed implementation plans that bay states devised to show how they’ll meet their pollution-reduction targets by 2025. Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania are responsible for 90% of the pollution dumped into the Chesapeake.
EPA found that Virginia and Maryland plans, if fully funded and implemented, can meet their targets. Gov. Ralph Northam is urging a robust state investment in bay cleanup to meet his plan, and state lawmakers will consider his request in the upcoming General Assembly, which convenes January 9.
Pennsylvania’s plan, however, is underfunded by $300 million and falls 25% short of meeting its nitrogen-reduction goal. Baker said his group is considering suing the EPA to get it to force Pennsylvania to meet its targets.
Meanwhile, Congress has boosted funding for bay cleanup for the first time since 2015. The fiscal 2020 spending package signed last month hikes the annual budget for the Chesapeake Bay Program from $73 million to $85 million.
Led by the EPA, the Chesapeake Bay Program is the partnership of federal, state and local government agencies, conservation and citizen groups working to protect and restore the bay. Its federal funding comes out of the EPA budget, and nearly two-thirds of that is given to state and local jurisdictions through various grant programs to pay for anti-pollution measures.
President Donald Trump has tried to gut the program budget or eliminate it, arguing that bay states should pay for their own cleanup work. But Congress has kept restoring it.
Bay states had tried and failed for decades to clean up the polluted bay. Then in 2010 they agreed to a so-called pollution diet, with the EPA setting limits on the amount of sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus each state could dump into the watershed.
States came up with their own blueprints for meeting their reduction targets, with two-year milestones and an end goal of having enough anti-pollution measures in place by 2025 to restore water quality.
Recent studies have shown that reducing pollutants has led to improvements in water quality, underwater grasses and some fish populations. But marine scientists warn that increased development in the watershed and the warming temperatures and more intense storms caused by climate change are threatening those improvements.