Chesapeake Bay plan faces growing resistance


Philip Langdon

New Urban Network

The US Environmental Protection Agency’s “pollution diet” for the six-state Chesapeake Bay watershed — which could crimp urban development, according to some new urbanists — is running into resistance in many quarters.

The latest organization to challenge the EPA’s plan for reducing the flow of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment into the Bay is the American Farm Bureau (AFB), which filed a lawsuit Jan. 10 claiming that EPA is “overreaching its authority.”

AFB and the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau went to court in Pennsylvania, contending that EPA lacks the legal authority to specify pollution reductions for farms, municipalities, and other sources in the 64,000-square-mile watershed. According to a blog posting by Timothy Wheeler of The Baltimore Sun (available here), the farm groups contend that EPA’s establishment of a “total maximum daily load” of pollutants is based on erroneous information about pollution sources.

The farm bureaus argue that EPA relied on computer models that are “unsuitable” for simulating the impact of the pollutants on the Bay’s water quality. Furthermore, the farm groups claim that EPA did not allow adequate time for public comment and review before imposing the pollution diet.

New Urban News reported in December (in an article available here) that new urbanists in Maryland are apprehensive about the pollution diet, fearing that Maryland’s implementation plan could inadvertently crimp urban development in that state. Opinion among new urbanists and other planners is divided over whether Maryland’s plan — which has been endorsed by EPA — will be predominantly good or bad in its effects.

The farm groups want EPA to start over in assigning state-by-state pollution reductions, which are aimed at restoring the health of the degraded Bay.

However, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, an environmental organization, criticized the farm bureau federation, saying the lawsuit would only delay a needed cleanup. The Baltimore Sun blog reported that William C. Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, accused the farm groups of “an attempt to evade their responsibility and shift additional obligations to reduce pollution to sewage treatment plan ratepayers and urban and suburban jurisdictions.”

The farm groups’ lawsuit could be one of many efforts to block the EPA plan, according to an article by Christian Freymeyer of GreaterAnnapolisPatch, available here. “Other challenges include pollution enforcement, funding sources for system upgrades, and the ability of state legislatures to act on new legislation,” Freymeyer pointed out.

Chris Trumbauer, a member of the Anne Arundel, Maryland, County Council, told Freymeyer that in many cases, polluters are not obeying laws already on the books. A big question is whether the Watershed Implementation Plans proposed by the six states will really be enforced. Both the EPA and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation have admitted that some enforcement issues may require new state legislation — possibly hard to get at a time when state legislatures are already grappling with budget reductions and proposals on how to revive the economy.

EPA announced its final pollution diet in late December in a document that runs more than 200 pages, plus 800 pages of appendices. The EPA announcement, available here, calls for a 25 percent reduction in nitrogen, a 24 percent reduction in phosphorus, and a 20 percent cut in sediment. The six states and the District of Columbia are to put all the pollution controls in place by 2025.

“The EPA will regularly oversee each of the jurisdictions’ programs to make sure they implement pollution control plans and remain on schedule for meeting goals and milestones,” the agency said. “Each jurisdiction will be accountable for results along the way.”

Shawn M. Garvin, Mid-Atlantic regional administrator for EPA, noted that in addition to the actions agreed to by the states, the agency will impose tighter limits on sewage treatment plans in New York and will require more communities in Pennsylvania to take steps to reduce the volume of pollution washing off streets and lawns.