(HARRISBURG, PA)—A Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) review of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) interim milestone assessment shows that Pennsylvania is falling dangerously short of meeting the commitments it made to reduce pollution and restore the Commonwealth's waterways.
As part of the Clean Water Blueprint, the Bay states developed two-year incremental pollution reduction targets, called milestones, with the goal of implementing 60 percent of the programs and practices necessary to restore local water quality by 2017, and finish the job by 2025. EPA reviewed Pennsylvania's reported progress in its 2014-15 milestones and found that while on track for phosphorus reduction goals, there are significant shortfalls in meeting nitrogen and sediment pollution goals.
This follows Pennsylvania having also missed the mark for nitrogen and sediment in its 2012-13 milestones.
"It is past time for Pennsylvania to take meaningful actions that will accelerate pollution reduction," said CBF President William C. Baker. "If Pennsylvania does not significantly advance their efforts to reduce pollution then CBF calls on EPA to specify the actions it intends to take to ensure pollution is reduced. Unless there are consequences for failure, we are in danger of repeating the decades of failed Bay restoration efforts of the first three Bay agreements."
The most significant shortfall is in reducing nitrogen and sediment pollution from agriculture. To get back on track, the Commonwealth would have to reduce nitrogen pollution by an additional 14.6 million pounds, or 22 percent, by the end of this year.
"The Wolf administration inherited the issues identified in EPA's assessment and has acknowledged that a pollution reduction 'reboot' of the Commonwealth's efforts is necessary. Now is the time to galvanize leadership in restoring Pennsylvania's rivers and streams and solve this problem," Baker said. "But they must begin now. There is a blueprint in place, and it must be implemented."
Agriculture, in general, is one of the least expensive sources of pollution to reduce, and the source that the Commonwealth is relying on most to achieve its water quality goals. It's also the leading cause of stream impairment in Pennsylvania, with more than 5,000 miles of rivers and streams damaged as a result of pollution from agriculture.
While Pennsylvania has long had requirements that farms have plans to reduce polluted runoff, it is estimated that no more than one in three farms actually has a plan that meets current standards. And, at the current pace of enforcement, it will take the Department of Environmental Protection more than 150 years to reach all farms in the state to ensure compliance.
The report also found that Pennsylvania will need to add 22,000 acres of forest and grass buffers to meet its commitments by 2017. That compares to only 3,000 acres achieved in 2014.
In President Obama's Chesapeake Bay Executive Order, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was called on to target funding to key watersheds to assist states in meeting two-year milestones as identified in their clean-up plans.
"CBF calls on USDA to follow through on this commitment by prioritizing technical and financial resources to Pennsylvania to help achieve milestone goals for forested stream buffers and other pollution reduction practices," said CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director Harry Campbell.
Reducing pollution from urban/suburban runoff is also off track. Using 2009 as a baseline, Pennsylvania committed to reducing nitrogen pollution from urban/suburban runoff by 41 percent by 2025. As of 2014, practices have been put in place to reduce nitrogen pollution by only one percent.
"An economic report commissioned by CBF found that the benefits of fully implementing the Blueprint in the Commonwealth would increase the value of the natural services by $6.2 billion annually," Baker said. "Restoring water quality in local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay will reduce human health risks, bolster local economies, and leave a lasting legacy for our children and future generations."