Virginia Daily Press Editorial: Courts Must Compel Pennsylvania To Clean Up Chesapeake Bay
Many, many people in Pennsylvania agree with the central point of this editorial that appeared in the July 24 Daily Press in Virginia which follows a similar piece in the July 15 Baltimore Sun-- Pennsylvania politicians aren’t pulling their weight when it comes to cleaning up our rivers and streams--
[Virginia] Attorney General Mark Herring should consider legal action to keep Pennsylvania in line with Chesapeake Bay cleanup goals
Remember those school-aged days when teachers assigned group projects? Inevitably, someone didn’t carry equal weight, dragging the group down and forcing the remaining members to work harder.
Pennsylvania has become that indolent classmate.
Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania are the three largest polluters of the Chesapeake Bay. They are among seven jurisdictions in the bay’s watershed participating in a federally mandated program to reduce pollution and damaging nutrients entering the bay by 2025.
The aptly named “pollution diet” is entering its third phase and final phase that requires participants to submit watershed improvement plans outlining how they intend to meet their goals before 2025.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released evaluations of initial drafts last month, and the jurisdictions will respond with finalized documents in August.
In its draft, Pennsylvania isn’t even attempting to obscure its laggard efforts. While the state predicts it will require $485 million each year to achieve its 2025 goals, it only plans to invest $229 million annually. That leaves a $257 million gap each year until 2025.
Pennsylvania’s draft also notes it will only meet 64% of its nitrogen-reduction goal and 76% of its phosphorus-reduction goal by 2025.
In May, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation lambasted Pennsylvania for falling egregiously short in its efforts. The foundation released a report saying Pennsylvania's plan to reduce pollution from farms and cities is "woefully inadequate" and underfunded.
Yet the EPA has been unpredictable in its willingness and ability to force Pennsylvania to fund and enact higher standards. The Trump administration tried cutting nearly 90% of the agency’s funding this year, and its administrator, Andrew Wheeler, is a former coal lobbyist.
In June, the EPA noted New York and Pennsylvania’s plans failed to the point that they would drag the remaining jurisdictions down below the regional 2025 goals.
This entire effort relies on Pennsylvania’s good-faith effort because most of the bay’s fresh water flows from the massive Susquehanna River.
Nearly 18 million gallons a minute flow from Pennsylvania, through Maryland, and into the bay. In the process, it picks up pollutants and nutrients from upriver farms and urban populations.
In fact, no part of Pennsylvania directly borders the Chesapeake Bay, making it a difficult sell to state lawmakers.
The Chesapeake Bay is not an exclusive attraction for Virginians and Marylanders though. Pennsylvanians eat the blue crabs, oysters and fish that are pulled from the bay and they vacation along its shores.
Besides, a clean Susquehanna River is also an asset that Pennsylvanians can also enjoy.
Virginia, on the other hand, is doing the hard work necessary to meet its goals.
As a part of its third phase, Old Dominion plans to provide aid localities can use to pay for stormwater improvements; it is conducting more urban nutrient management planning, and it is more aggressively promoting living shorelines that help prevent erosion.
Virginia is also increasing incentives for property owners who grown forest buffers, helping horse owners manage their pastures and increasing tax credits for conservation equipment purchases.
Pennsylvania needs to do more to update local stormwater systems and train farmers to better handle and contain manure. It will take hard choices and sacrifices that, frankly, neighboring jurisdictions are already making to meet the 2025 goals.
These processes will require mounds of money, but the payoff provides results we all can enjoy: clean water, air and land.
The EPA cannot be trusted to be a faithful watchdog in the current political climate, and it lacks both the bark and bite to truly compel Pennsylvania to act.
That’s why Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring must consider filing litigation in federal court to compel Pennsylvania to pick up the slack.
The courts are set up to hold the state accountable for its failures and force its leadership into making tough decisions that will benefit the entire watershed.
There are very few times that state taxpayers’ dollars must be used to sue another state. This certainly is one of those times.
The watershed improvement project was billed as a regional mandate that required every state to participate. If we really are all in this together, Pennsylvania cannot be allowed to opt-out two-thirds of the way through the process.
[Note: The PA Chesapeake Bay Watershed Planning Steering Committee is scheduled to meet on August 16 to review Pennsylvania’s final plan for meeting the state’s 2025 pollution reduction obligations for the Chesapeake Bay cleanup. The final plan must be submitted to EPA on August 23.]
(Photo: Conowingo Dam just downstream from the PA-MD border on the Susquehanna River. That muddy water is coming primarily from Pennsylvania. Granted it’s after a major rain storm, but it is a visual reminder of the nutrients and sediment Pennsylvania streams and rivers generate every day because Pennsylvania politicians aren’t doing their job.)
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[Posted: July 25, 2019]
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