The Maryland Watermen’s Association and Chesapeake Bay Foundation launched a lawsuit to compel the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency into enforce Chesapeake Bay cleanup standards against upstream states.
The two groups were joined by Anne Arundel County, Md., elected officials and Virginia livestock farmers Robert Whitescarver and Jeanne Hoffman in filing the lawsuit Sept. 10 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Meanwhile attorneys general for Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, and the District of Columbia are filing a similar action in the same court.
The lawsuits seek to have the EPA force Pennsylvania and New York State to meet nutrient pollution reduction goals, set out in a 2010 plan and affirmed in a 2014 compact among the EPA and the states.
Excessive nutrients act like fertilizer in bay waters, fueling algae growth and driving the Chesapeake Bay’s recurring water quality problems. There is a 2025 target date for meeting the goals of reducing nutrient pollution, chiefly excessive nitrogen that comes down from the vast Susquehanna River watershed.
But Pennsylvania’s implementation plan, approved by the EPA last year, “will achieve only roughly 73 percent of its 31 million-pound nitrogen-reduction commitment, and the implementation plan is underfunded by more than $300 million dollars a year,” according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
“There is no ‘reasonable assurance’ there,” as the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals called for in an earlier ruling upholding the plan, foundation officials say.
New York State’s EPA-approved plan misses its nitrogen reduction goal from the original plan by more than 1 million pounds annually and does not identify funding sources to pay for reducing emissions from farms and stormwater runoff, the foundation said.
“EPA should either have required the states to design plans to fully meet the pollution reduction goals including identifying the necessary funding, or imposed consequences,” the group said. “EPA’s acceptance of New York and Pennsylvania’s plans last year was a violation of the agency’s responsibilities.”
“Remember water runs downhill with these pollutants and for these reasons the Maryland Watermen’s Association hopes through this lawsuit it will force the EPA to protect and enforce the health of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries,” association president Robert T. Brown Sr. said in a joint statement with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
The bay cleanup plan has withstood court challenges from the American Farm Bureau and others, but rulings have held it is a legal exercise of “cooperative federalism” under the federal Clean Water Act.
EPA officials defended their record in a media statement.
“In the past year alone, EPA and its federal partners have provided nearly a half-billion dollars to support bay watershed restoration activities, and EPA has delivered thousands of hours of technical assistance to the states, as well as comprehensive reviews of state implementation plans and progress forecasts to identify strengths and weaknesses."