A proposed settlement has been reached in the 2020 lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for its failure to require Pennsylvania to develop and implement a plan to meet its commitments to reduce pollution under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. The settlement is a significant step toward reducing pollution in Pennsylvania. It is the result of lawsuits filed against EPA during the Trump Administration by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and its partners including Anne Arundel County, the Maryland Watermen’s Association, and Robert Whitescarver and Jeanne Hoffman. The Attorneys General for Delaware, Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Virginia filed a separate similar suit. The courts combined the cases. The public will now have 30 days to comment on the proposed settlement before it can be finalized.
“This proposed settlement is a win for local waterways, healthy communities, and the Chesapeake Bay. EPA focusing on concerted remedial action to address some of the most severe problems in Pennsylvania provides accountability and reasonable assurance that Bay restoration will succeed,” said CBF President Hilary Harp Falk. “This is a welcome change. The Trump Administration did not use its Clean Water Act tools to hold all Bay partners accountable. This proposed settlement shows that the Biden Administration has taken a significant step forward in meeting that obligation.”
EPA previously failed to require Pennsylvania to develop a plan to fully meet the pollution reduction goals, including identifying the necessary funding, or impose consequences. The settlement requires EPA to, among other things, look for ways to reduce pollution from agriculture–the state’s biggest polluting source–and stormwater runoff from urban and suburban land. As part of the settlement, EPA also commits to increase compliance and enforcement efforts.
“Every state in the Bay watershed relies on the Chesapeake and its tributaries, economically, environmentally, recreationally, and culturally. We all have a stake in its restoration—and, despite budget constraints and the scope of the challenge, Delaware and most of our region have not backed down from our duty to the Bay and to future generations,” said Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings. “There’s work left to do, and this settlement is not the final step—but this work matters, and this agreement represents a huge step forward for the millions of people who depend on the Bay.”
Under the settlement, EPA will prioritize its efforts in Pennsylvania on the counties that contribute the most pollution to, or have the largest impact on, local rivers and streams. Those are Lancaster, York, Bedford, Cumberland, Centre, Franklin, and Lebanon counties.
In the agriculture sector, EPA will take a close look at farms not currently required to have federal permits that have proximity to rivers and streams to see if there is significant damage to water quality from manure generation, manure management practices and/or available storage capacity, and compliance history. If EPA determines that a farm is a significant contributor of pollution, EPA will confer with Pennsylvania about designating the farm as a point source subject to permitting.
In urban and suburban areas, EPA will begin to evaluate whether pollution from sources of stormwater that are not currently subject to federal regulations are adding to the damage to local rivers and streams. If EPA determines that a particular source, or sector of sources, contributes to a violation EPA will, at a minimum, confer with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP). EPA and PA DEP will examine the possibility of designating the sources as needing to obtain a point source permit that limits pollution by requiring the removal of impervious surfaces, the installation of BMPs or both.
In enforcement, EPA will increase compliance-assurance activities in the priority counties to assess whether federally-permitted sources are complying with existing permit requirements. EPA will also determine whether there are any PA DEP-issued general permits or individual permits within the Pennsylvania portion of the Bay watershed that have been administratively extended. EPA will work with the Commonwealth to develop a permit reissuance strategy designed to bring permits up to date and significantly reduce the number of administratively extended permits.
“Marylanders deserve a clean and healthy Chesapeake Bay. The Bay and its local waterways are vital social, economic, and cultural resources to communities across Maryland, but keeping them healthy is difficult when pollution from Pennsylvania washes downstream,” said Maryland Attorney General Anthony G. Brown. “The Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement only works if all the states that signed it maintain their commitment to restoring and protecting the Bay.”
“Ensuring DC’s waterways and natural resources are clean, safe, and accessible for all DC residents is a top priority for the Office of Attorney General,” said District of Columbia Attorney General Brian Schwalb. “Every state in the Chesapeake Bay watershed shares a responsibility to clean up our local waterways, and the EPA must ensure that states fulfill those obligations. This settlement is an important step to ensure that the Chesapeake Bay’s pollution reduction goals continue to progress on track.”
Reducing pollution remains the single most urgent priority to restore the Chesapeake Bay, and the Blueprint has proven to be the best way yet to do so. Since 2009, the partnership has put practices in place to reduce the nitrogen pollution flowing into the Bay each year by 30 million pounds—roughly 42 percent of the required reduction. Reducing pollution from agriculture and stormwater runoff is significantly behind.
Both CBF’s and EPA’s most recent evaluations of the watershed jurisdictions’ plans to meet the Blueprint requirements found that most states were not on track to meet Blueprint obligations by 2025, while noting that recent successes at the state level will accelerate pollution-reduction efforts.
“While 2025 will be yet another missed deadline, the Blueprint’s goal remains achievable and should remain our north star. At the same time, we must also recognize that our challenges have grown. Together, we must build on lessons learned and accelerate progress toward a new deadline measured in years - not decades,” Falk said. “As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Chesapeake Bay Program, this is a critical time to keep the pressure on. The states and District of Columbia must accelerate efforts to reduce pollution. EPA’s recent actions in Pennsylvania have signaled it will accept nothing less than full achievement of the Blueprint commitments. With leadership from EPA and Pennsylvania, I believe success is within reach.”
Quotes from CBF’s partners
CBF’s partners in its original suit are Anne Arundel County, Maryland, the Maryland Watermen’s Association, and Robert Whitescarver and Jeanne Hoffman, who operate a livestock farm in Virginia.
Anne Arundel County, Maryland—Anne Arundel County’s 588 square miles of land includes more than 500 miles of shoreline on the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Its 580,000 residents and countless tourists are drawn to the county to enjoy the Bay, fresh seafood, and numerous water-based recreational opportunities. Travel and tourism spending in the county are estimated at over $3.5 billion annually, providing support for over 30,000 workers. The county has invested more than $500 million over the last decade to protect this vital natural, economic, and cultural resource.
"Protecting our waterways is only possible if we all work together," said Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman. "Anne Arundel County is doing our part to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay, and we need all of our regional partners to do the same to keep the Bay and our waterways healthy for all who depend on them.”
The Maryland Watermen’s Association—Robert T Brown, Sr. is the President of the Maryland Watermen’s Association. He observed that Maryland watermen and the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries have suffered for many years due to EPA’s failure to enforce the Clean Water Act. The pollution of waste and debris flowing from upstream states, through the Susquehanna River feeding into the Chesapeake Bay creates red tides, low oxygen levels and dead zones. This affects the survival of oyster larvae, crabs, clams, and fish.
“This is a great step toward correcting the influence of phosphates and nitrogen entering the Chesapeake Bay from the Susquehanna River. This will help reduce the pollution that affects reproduction of aquatic vegetation and all Bay fisheries,” said Maryland Watermen’s Association President Robert T. Brown. “The Maryland Watermen’s Association is thankful as this will improve the quality of the water in the Bay and will improve the seafood industry harvest.”
Robert Whitescarver and Jeanne Hoffman operate a farm in Virginia, raising livestock. He is a former Natural Resource Conservation Service representative, who spent his career educating farmers on the benefits of protecting farmland and improving water quality in local streams and rivers.
“Animal feeding operations, large or small, can contribute significant pollution to nearby streams. In addition, continuously applying animal manure to the same land can harm groundwater resources,” Robert Whitescarver said. “Monitoring these practices and making sure Best Management Practices are applied assures water quality improvement for the Bay and for people. We welcome EPA’s input to help Pennsylvania farmers do their part to save the Bay, its tributaries, and the water where they live.”