December 30, 2013
CBF Review Finds Federal Government Falling Short in Key Pollution Reduction Commitments
Offers Suggestions to Strengthen 2014-15 Milestones
(ANNAPOLIS, MD)—A Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) review of the federal government's 2014-15 draft milestones and other recent actions has determined the federal government is falling short in its commitments to expand forest buffers, rein in air pollution, and comply with the Clean Water Act when approving permits to reduce stormwater pollution from urban/suburban runoff.
"While the Clean Water Blueprint is successfully reducing pollution from some sources, federal efforts in key areas are falling short," said CBF Senior Water Quality Scientist Beth McGee. "Of even more concern is that important actions to achieve those commitments have not been included in the next two-year milestones. One of the things that distinguishes current efforts from past efforts that fell far short of the mark are these clear and transparent short-term commitments."
President Obama's Executive Order in 2009 required the federal government to develop and implement two-year milestones to support state pollution reduction efforts.
All the major Bay states rely heavily on forest buffers to achieve their water quality goals. In fact, according to the Chesapeake Bay Program, these buffers are the second most important practice to reduce nitrogen pollution. State pollution reduction plans call for roughly an additional 185,000 acres of forest buffers by 2025, an average increase of 14,200 acres per year. Implementation progress in 2012 was roughly an additional 2,600 acres. This is less than 20 percent of the amount needed annually, and one of the lowest acreage gains since the late 1990s.
Funding for buffers, and the technical assistance to implement them, comes primarily from the Farm Bill. The 2008 Farm Bill prioritized buffer planting and provided additional assistance to the region's farmers. Much of that funding expired this fall when Congress failed to pass an extension of the legislation.
"The lack of progress toward forest buffer goals is alarming given the importance of this practice to achieving clean water," CBF's McGee said. "Bay Program staff are aware of the shortfall and CBF calls on USDA to include milestone commitments that will accelerate implementation of forest buffers in the Bay states."
As part of the Clean Water Blueprint, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) committed to reducing nitrogen pollution from the air by an estimated three million pounds. That reduction was expected to be achieved by air pollution regulations that have now been tied up in court for years. And those regulations only cover coal-fired power plants.
Federal courts have ruled that sources of air pollution that are known to directly discharge pollutants into waters of the United States can be regulated not just under the Clean Air Act, but under the Clean Water Act as well. CBF is calling on EPA to utilize its current authority to do just that. In addition to coal plants, major polluters like asphalt plants, cement kilns, and pulp and paper manufacturers within the Chesapeake Bay airshed could be forced to reduce pollution damaging local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay.
Finally, CBF and the Choose Clean Water Coalition are concerned that many permits that reduce polluted runoff from urban and suburban areas are failing to comply with the Clean Water Act. They fail to set deadlines and regular benchmarks for reducing pollution from runoff, fail to promote the kinds of runoff control practices that would best protect water quality in the rivers and streams the runoff enters, and fail to require adequate monitoring of results. EPA is responsible for final review and approval of these permits.
In Montgomery County, MD, a judge found that although "the permit must include requirements needed to meet water quality standards," the permit issued by Maryland Department of the Environment "lacks ascertainable metrics for meeting water quality standards that can either be met or not met," and insisted that "specific requirements for meeting water quality standards must be stated in the permit."
In Arlington, VA, since no chemical monitoring is required, the monitoring requirements in the permit are insufficient to properly identify how much pollution is entering local waterways, and to assure that pollution limits are being complied with.
In Pennsylvania, which has permits that don't explain the kinds of implementation plans that are expected of localities, EPA has not exerted its authority sufficiently to ensure transparency and accountability, and that pollution is reduced and deadlines are met.
"Restoring local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay will only be achieved when all the partners do their fair share," McGee said. "The federal government must step up its oversight and clearly define the actions it will take over the next two years to ensure progress. Meeting the milestones will not just benefit us today, but also our children and future generations."