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Chesapeake Bay Foundation Issues Report On PA Bay Cleanup Commitments

Pennsylvania will have to double and triple its efforts to install agricultural best management practices if the Commonwealth is to meet the milestone commitments it set by the end of 2011 to cleanup our rivers and streams, according to a new report issued by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation this week.

            The report was given to members of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy and Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committees who held an informational meeting on the Chesapeake Bay TMDL.  (see separate story)
            “CBF commends the joint committees for taking a necessary step toward moving Pennsylvania in the right direction – toward providing state funding for much-needed and federally mandated improvements to reduce pollution from agriculture and stormwater sources,” said Matt Ehrhart, CBF Pennsylvania Executive Director. “State officials have suggested that Pennsylvania already has the resources needed to meet our Chesapeake Bay Cleanup commitment – however, the reality is that we are putting the burden of hundreds of millions of dollars in compliance costs squarely on farmers, developers, and sewage system ratepayers without further state assistance. Pennsylvania must prioritize state funding toward our obligation to meet our federal clean water commitments.”
            With shortcomings in state resources, the opportunity for significant federal funding to aide in the efforts does exist. Introduced in October 2009, the Chesapeake Clean Water and Ecosystem Restoration Act (S. 1816/H.R. 3852), also known as the Chesapeake Clean Water Act (CCWA), will provide critical funding for stormwater upgrades, agricultural technical assistance and create a new region-wide trading program that could lower the costs of reducing pollution and provide a potential revenue stream for farmers.
            “The CCWA is the single most important legislation for clean water in a generation, and if passed by Congress will authorize significant new resources to help communities do their part,” Ehrhart said. “The pollution budget is coming. We must all work together to ensure that the funding and technical assistance are there, or there will be serious consequences. If we do not, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, instead of Pennsylvania, will make the decisions they feel are appropriate to meet the clean water mandates. In fact, they have already begun to take enforcement actions against farmers and communities.”
            Pennsylvania made specific commitments in the fall of 2009 to accomplish the first milestone by the end of 2011--            
-- Forest Buffers.  DEP has committed to implement over 19,000 acres of new forested buffers between 2009 and the conclusion of 2011.  By comparison, between 2001 and 2008, a total of 29,673 acres of buffers were installed.  This equates to 10.2 acres per day, 7 days a week.  The commitment by DEP more than doubles that rate to 26.1 acres per day, every day, from now through 2011.  
-- Nutrient Management Plans.  Between 2001 and 2008, approximately 151,263 acres per year included in newly developed plans.  This equates to about 414 acres per day.  By the end of 2011, Pennsylvania has committed to add 473,801 acres or 649 acres per day—a 235 acre per day increase. 
-- Conservation Plans. From 2001 to 2008, a total of 1,413,048 acres of plans were developed.  This is equal to 144 acres per day.  DEP has committed to implement an additional 327,770 acres or 449 acres per day from 2009 through 2011—a three fold increase. 
-- Non-Urban Stream Restoration. Pennsylvania has committed to restore an additional 215,088 feet (40 miles) of streams through 2011.  This equates to approximately 295 feet per day.  From 2001 to 2008, the rate of restoration was equivalent to 38 feet per day.  Or, in other words, an eight fold increase is required.  
-- Tree Planting.  Between 2001 and 2008, Pennsylvania accomplished 5,875 acres of tree plantings, or 2 acres per day.  DEP has now committed to plant 15,065 acres of trees or 21 acres per day, or a tenfold increase in the historical rate.  
            The report said, "Although not comprehensive, this information easily indicates DEP must drastically increase the resources it has devoted over the last decade to convincing landowners to adopt these practices, planning their installation and installing the practices if Pennsylvania is to meet its commitments through the end of 2011."
            The report noted DEP itself estimated in 2005 the cost of installing agricultural best management practices would be about $600 million and given inflation would now cost $50 million more.
            At the same time, cuts to DEP's budget have resulted in a 19 percent cut in agency staff and cuts in state assistance to county conservation districts have resulted in a significant shortfall in technical support to farmers, which both DEP and the state Department of Agriculture noted in a letter to U.S. Senator Ben Dardin of Maryland as recently as January 19, 2010 the report said.
            Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding reiterated that shortfall at the joint committee meeting this week by saying, "There is a critical shortage of technical assistance and compliance oversight staff in Pennsylvania."

            The report goes on to document the help needed by wastewater plants, decisions DEP needs to make to have a functioning nutrient credit trading system and the need to begin planning to meet the stormwater management requirements of the milestones.

            Also included in the report are the penalties the U.S. Environmental Protection said it would impose on states not meeting the milestones:
-- Require more farms and other businesses to obtain NPDES permits for their activities using the agency’s "Residual Designation Authority."
-- Actively review all draft major and minor NPDES permits considered by DEP and object/deny permits, such as for new development and Concentrated Animal Farm Operations (CAFO) permits, which are not consistent with required Bay TMDL pollution reductions.
-- Require pollution offsets that result in an overall net pollution reduction for any new or increased NPDES discharges, and including for the first time those for new development and CAFOs.
-- Establish a watershed by watershed cap on new pollution loads, rather than a Bay watershed-wide cap as currently planned. 
-- Require sewage treatment plants to make additional nutrient load reductions to the limit of technology, which would be several times more stringent and costly than today’s standard. 
-- Increase and target federal enforcement and compliance oversight for all regulated sources of nutrient and sediment pollution, including air pollution. 
-- Limit eligibility for federal grants to only those facilities that meet or exceed their nutrient reduction limits.  
-- Establish and enforce in-stream water quality standards for nutrients for each river and stream in the watershed.
            DEP has set its first meeting on developing Pennsylvania's Watershed Implementation Plan for the Chesapeake Bay TMDL for March 31.  The draft plan is due June 1 to EPA. (see separate story)
            A copy of the report is available online.   A video of the hearing and copies of testimony are available online.



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