Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Other States Give Notice To EPA Of Intent To Sue Over Failure To Hold PA, NY Accountable For Meeting Bay Cleanup Milestones
On May 18, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and its partners filed a notice of intent to sue the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for its failure to require Pennsylvania and New York to develop implementation plans that will achieve the 2025 Bay restoration goals.
Partners in our filing include the Maryland Watermen’s Association, Bobby Whitescarver (a farmer from Swoope, Virginia), and Anne Arundel County, Maryland.
Underscoring the importance of holding EPA accountable, the Attorneys General in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia also filed a notice that they intend to sue EPA as well.
“EPA has failed to uphold its Clean Water Act responsibilities. It has failed to implement the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. This has been ongoing for years, well before the COVID-19 pandemic, and the damage done will last far beyond the pandemic,” said CBF President William C. Baker. “Ensuring the implementation of the Blueprint has been CBF’s top priority for over 10 years. It is essential the courts hold EPA accountable. There is no doubt that if Pennsylvania and New York fail to do their fair share the Bay will never be saved.”
“The Chesapeake Bay is one of our country’s most valuable natural resources,” said Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh. “Restoring the health of the Bay will take a coordinated, multistate effort with every state sharing the burden. The EPA has abandoned its responsibility to regulate and manage the efforts of the Bay states and together, we fully intend to hold the EPA accountable and not allow it to step away from its regulatory duty.”
“Protecting and restoring the Chesapeake Bay requires a comprehensive effort by each of the watershed states as well as the EPA,” said Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. “As the administrator of the Chesapeake Bay Agreement, the EPA must treat each of the partners equally and make sure every state is pulling its weight and upholding its portion of the agreement, but instead, the Trump EPA simply rubberstamped plans that are plainly inadequate. I hope we are able to come to an understanding that is beneficial for all parties, while keeping the health of the Bay at the forefront.”
A spokesperson for DEP released this statement in reaction to the filing of the notice of intent against EPA-- The Chesapeake Bay partnership and plans were always intended to be a collaborative effort among the seven jurisdictions in the watershed. This lawsuit would undermine the cooperative spirit of that partnership.
“Pennsylvania's partnership of state and county government, agricultural, community, and business leaders is the strongest and most productive it's ever been in working together to improve water quality in the watershed.
“In fact, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is a key partner, participating in our Phase 3 WIP Agriculture Work Group, leading the Keystone 10 Million Trees Partnership, and, as a DEP Growing Greener Grant recipient, helping to get significant projects on the ground.
“A lawsuit of this nature would further distract and divert federal and state agency resources from our effort and fail to advance our common goal to improve water quality here in Pennsylvania and in the Chesapeake Bay.”
Over the last dozen years, CBF has used litigation sparingly, but effectively, to advance Bay restoration efforts. In 2009, CBF sued EPA for its failure to enforce the Clean Water Act and ensure that Bay restoration succeeds.
The settlement of that lawsuit included the science-based limits established by EPA for pollution fouling the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams. The states developed individual plans to achieve those limits and committed to two-year milestones that outline the actions they will take to achieve those limits by 2025.
And, most importantly, EPA committed to imposing consequences for failure. Together, the limits, plans, milestones, and consequences make up what is known as the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.
Shortly after the Blueprint was established, the American Farm Bureau Federation and its allies sued EPA in federal court claiming that the pollution limits and plans were illegal. CBF intervened on EPA’s behalf, defending the legality of the Blueprint.
The Blueprint was upheld by a federal court judge in Pennsylvania, who found that the federal/state partnership was legal, calling it an example of the “cooperative federalism” that is called for in the Clean Water Act.
The decision was appealed to the federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals. There, CBF continued to argue that the Blueprint was legal pointing to the damage done to local communities and businesses that depend on clean water.
Once again, the appeals court upheld the Blueprint, reaffirming EPA’s authority. The court also addressed the requirement that state plans provide ‘reasonable assurance’, saying that EPA’s acceptance of plans without such assurance would be arbitrary and capricious.
The Blueprint opponents asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the lower court’s decision. The Supreme Court declined, leaving the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruling to stand.
The Clean Water Act requires EPA to ensure the states design and implement plans to meet their clean water commitments. After years of failed voluntary efforts, this oversight and accountability is critical.
The Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint will only be successful if each jurisdiction meets its pollution-reduction goals in accordance with the established pollution limits.
This is especially true for Pennsylvania, and to a lesser degree New York, because the Susquehanna River provides roughly half of the Bay's fresh water as well as almost half of the nitrogen pollution.
EPA’s recent evaluation of New York’s plan noted that the state’s nitrogen shortfall exceeded 1 million pounds annually and failed to adequately identify funding sources for meeting agricultural and stormwater commitments.
Pennsylvania’s plan to meet the 2025 goals contains improvements over past plans, including prioritized county-level plans. However, as approved by EPA, it would only achieve roughly 73 percent of its 31 million-pound nitrogen-reduction commitment, and the implementation plan is underfunded by nearly $324 million dollars a year.
Despite the deficiencies, EPA took no steps to hold either state accountable to their Blueprint obligations.
EPA should either have required the states to design plans to fully meet the pollution reduction goals including identifying the necessary funding, or imposed consequences. EPA’s acceptance of New York and Pennsylvania’s plans last year was a violation of the agency’s responsibilities.
“CBF has a long history of working in Pennsylvania to improve local waters and the Bay downstream. The problem in the Commonwealth is not the lack of people and partners on the ground willing to reduce pollution in local waterways,” said CBF Pennsylvania Science Policy and Advocacy Director, Harry Campbell. “The problem is that Pennsylvania’s elected leaders have not invested sufficient funds to support those efforts. EPA also has an important role to play, working with its federal partners, to provide additional resources to reduce pollution damaging the Commonwealth’s rivers and streams.”
The Blueprint, however, is not just about clean water. Taking the actions necessary to reduce pollution will support local businesses, create jobs, and provide additional environmental and public health benefits—all of particular importance in our current national public health and economic crisis.
“After decades of failed commitments, the Blueprint is working. Pollution is down, crabs are rebounding, and the dead zone is getting smaller,” Baker said. “EPA’s failure to hold Pennsylvania and New York accountable undermines the integrity of this historic federal-state partnership. EPA is the enforcer, just as the law requires. It is up to the courts to compel EPA to do its job. Clean water for our children and grandchildren will be the reward.”
While CBF recognizes that the federal government, the states, and communities are now saddled with the additional burden of a pandemic, the long-term benefits to the environment, to public health, and to local economies are inextricably entwined.
Compelling EPA to require the states to implement the Blueprint by 2025 will benefit all in the region.
For more on Chesapeake Bay-related issues in Pennsylvania, visit the Chesapeake Bay Foundation-PA webpage. Click Here to sign up for Pennsylvania updates (bottom of left column). Click Here to support their work.
Also visit the Keystone 10 Million Trees Partnership to learn how you can help clean water grow on trees.
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[Posted: May 18, 2020]
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