(ANNAPOLIS, MD)—Today, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its midpoint assessment of efforts to reduce pollution and restore water quality in local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay. In that assessment, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) found important progress, but troubling trends as well. Specifically, Pennsylvania's poor progress in reducing pollution threatens local rivers and streams as well as the recovery of downstream waters of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and Virginia.
"This is a critical moment for Bay restoration. Halfway to the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint's 2025 goal, it's time to get serious about finishing the job," said CBF President William C. Baker. "Pennsylvania is far behind. The Commonwealth must fund proven clean water initiatives specifically associated with helping farmers. If the state legislature does not fund efforts to reduce pollution in its next session, EPA must hold Pennsylvania accountable."
The federal-state Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, established in 2010, includes pollution limits, state-specific plans to achieve those limits, two-year milestones to evaluate progress, and consequences for failure. The states also committed to having practices in place to achieve 60 percent of the needed reductions by 2017, and to finish the job by 2025.
All states in the Bay watershed, except New York, have met goals for reducing pollution from sewage treatment plants. Maryland and Virginia are close to reaching overall goals, but are significantly behind in reducing pollution from urban/suburban runoff. Pennsylvania is significantly off track meeting its goals for agriculture and urban/suburban runoff. Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, which are together responsible for achieving roughly 95 percent of the remaining pollution, have fallen short in reducing nitrogen pollution from agriculture.
"Progress reducing pollution from agriculture must be accelerated. Many farmers are taking steps to reduce pollution, but they lack the resources and funding to do more. Legislation proposed by Senators Casey and Van Hollen as part of the federal Farm Bill could help make that happen," said Beth McGee, CBF Director of Science and Agricultural Policy. "Progress in reducing pollution from urban and suburban runoff not only continues to lag, but it is the only major source of pollution that is increasing."
Nature is signaling that the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint is working: Dead zones are shrinking; Underwater grasses are at record levels; Crabs and oysters are making a comeback. However, Pennsylvania's lack of progress threatens success. Recognizing this, in early 2016 the Commonwealth announced a reboot of its strategy to clean up its waterways. While this has made some important headway, many challenges remain. The biggest barrier continues to be inadequate investment from Pennsylvania.
"In the next legislative session, Pennsylvania must enact a dedicated cost-share program for farmers that supports conservation practices like streamside forested buffers. This would directly help family farms by keeping vital soils and nutrients on the land instead of in the water," said CBF Pennsylvania Executive Director Harry Campbell. "The result would be cleaner streams and healthier, more productive soils. It's a win-win. But unless Pennsylvania's legislature increases investment in reducing pollution, EPA will have no choice but to act."
The Bay jurisdictions are starting to work on the third iteration of their clean-up plans that will describe the actions they will take between now and 2025 to finish the job. These plans must be detailed and comprehensive while addressing existing shortfalls. Creating local pollution-reduction goals will be critical, as will efforts to prioritize and target resources to the areas contributing the most pollution.
EPA has outlined a comprehensive list of their expectations for the next round of clean-up plans including identifying shortfalls that need to be addressed in each state. These expectations call on the jurisdictions to clearly identify the need for greater funding, technical assistance, regulatory oversight, and solutions necessary to achieve the 2025 goals. Continued state collaboration and investment is especially critical as the prospect of Trump Administration roll-backs of air pollution regulations on power plants and vehicles could make achieving these goals even more difficult
"The Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint is working because it has teeth." Mr. Baker said. "If EPA holds Pennsylvania accountable, we may see the greatest environmental success story of our time: Saving the Chesapeake Bay and its local rivers and streams."
Editor's note: EPA's press release can be found here: https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/assessment-chesapeake-bay-restoration-shows-progress and its full evaluation can be found here: https://www.epa.gov/chesapeake-bay-tmdl/epa-final-evaluation-2016-2017-milestone-and-midpoint-progress-and-2018-2019