Settlement Reached in Suit Over Pennsylvania Pollution

In a filing today, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia was notified that the parties are dismissing a 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 dismissal is the result of the parties having previously reached a settlement of claims brought in the litigation. EPA published the settlement agreement for public comment in April, ultimately approving it after considering the comments received. 

The suit was filed during the Trump Administration by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and its partners including Anne Arundel County, the Maryland Watermen’s Association, and Bobby Whitescarver and Jeanne Hoffman. The Attorneys General for Delaware, Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Virginia filed a separate similar suit. The court combined the cases.

EPA previously failed to require Pennsylvania to develop a plan to fully meet the pollution reduction goals, including identifying the necessary funding, or imposing consequences. The settlement requires EPA to, among other things, look for ways to reduce pollution from agriculture–the state’s biggest source of pollution–and stormwater runoff from urban and suburban land. As part of the settlement, EPA also commits to increase compliance and enforcement efforts.

Under the settlement, EPA will prioritize 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.

Following the announcement, Chesapeake Bay Foundation President and CEO Hilary Harp Falk issued this statement.

“Clean water is essential to the health of local communities, economies, and our quality of life. This settlement addresses some of the most severe agricultural pollution problems by targeting efforts toward Pennsylvania counties where the need is greatest.

“A recent report from leading Bay scientists identifies several reasons that efforts to reduce pollution from agriculture and urban/suburban stormwater have not met expectations including the lack of targeting investments to the most effective places. This settlement takes a step forward with a focus on specific problem areas. And while we are encouraged by recent investments from the Commonwealth and leadership from EPA, we still have a long way to go.

“We look forward to working with EPA, Pennsylvania’s farming community, conservation organizations, and government officials as the Commonwealth, and all the states, seek to fulfill their commitments to clean water. 

“By following the science and working together, we can leave clean water, strong economies, and a vibrant heritage to the next generation.” 

Here are some of the key elements of the settlement.

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.

Concerning urban and suburban polluted runoff:

  • EPA will begin to evaluate whether sources of stormwater that are not currently subject to federal regulations are adding pollution 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 best management practices (BMPs), or both.

Increasing 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.
John Surrick 90x110

John Surrick

Former Director of Media Relations, CBF

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