The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) supports EPA’s decision that the agency has “no confidence” in the current plan to offset pollution from the Conowingo Dam. While the subject has been discussed for the last several years, to date the Bay jurisdictions have failed to develop a plan that would pay for those offsets.
EPA’s letter says, in part, “Without dedicated funding in place or firm commitments to support implementation of the necessary practices and controls by 2025, EPA has no confidence that these load reductions will be achieved."
CBF agrees with the overall concept that has been agreed to, which is a pay-for-performance model targeting pollution reductions from the areas that would provide the best bang for the buck. The question of how to pay to implement those practices has been the stumbling block. Initially, many had looked to Exelon, the owner operator of the Conowingo Dam, to provide a significant portion of the funding as part of its re-licensing agreement to offset downstream water quality impacts. Unfortunately, Maryland’s settlement agreement with Exelon was woefully inadequate and failed to hold Exelon responsible for its fair share of pollution reduction measures. Nor is Exelon required to adequately mitigate these impacts in the license issued last year by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to operate the Conowingo Dam. Therefore, unless and until the states commit to funding those efforts, there is no reasonable assurance that the necessary practices will be implemented.
As a first step, the Chesapeake Bay Program partnership is currently discussing a large-scale pilot project that would demonstrate the “pay-for-performance” approach and focus on the implementation of long-term practices that reduce pollution, like forest buffers, as opposed to practices that need annual funding. As a show of good faith, CBF encourages the Bay jurisdictions to collectively contribute funding for this pilot project.
Following EPA’s decision, CBF’s Director of Science and Agricultural Policy Beth McGee issued this statement:
“Maryland’s decision to not require Exelon to pay its fair share of the pollution-reduction costs was a missed opportunity that leaves all the Bay jurisdictions liable for that funding. Maryland, and the other Bay states, are now forced to step up to the plate and fund these measures.
“Unless the pending appeal of the license for the Conowingo Dam results in conditions on the operation of the Dam that mitigate its impacts to downstream water quality, EPA must hold all jurisdictions accountable for paying their fair share. This is necessary to help offset the additional pollution loads needed to address the lost trapping capacity at Conowingo. The Conowingo WIP outlines an approach that would cost-effectively achieve these reductions. If the Bay jurisdictions do not fund this plan, the alternatives would not nearly be as efficient and cost effective.
"The economic benefits of fully implementing the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint significantly exceed the short-term costs. The annual bill for implementing practices to offset pollution from the Conowingo Dam is estimated at $50 million. The annual natural benefits of implementing the Blueprint across the watershed is estimated to be more than $22 billion annually.”