D.C., Maryland, Virginia Plan to Sue EPA for Not Enforcing Chesapeake Bay Pollution Plans

Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia sent a notice of intent to sue to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) alleging that it has failed to keep Pennsylvania and New York accountable to the Watershed Implementation Plans to maintain the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load and reduce pollution in the bay. 

“The Trump EPA is rubber stamping plans that are plainly inadequate, and allowing some watershed states to do less than they are supposed to,” Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said. The Chesapeake Bay is home to thousands of plant and animal species and it is a cultural and economic resource in the region. The EPA has 60 days to respond to the notice before the states file a lawsuit.

The notice alleges the EPA has a duty to ensure plans are developed and implemented by those who agreed to the Chesapeake Bay Agreement. The Bay’s watershed takes water from six states and the District of Columbia, the states claim the water from various places bring “significant amounts of pollution” to the Bay and present unique challenges. The water quality of the Bay has declined over recent decades.

“In light of the complex problems posed by water pollution over a huge geographic expanse in multiple jurisdictions, the Bay States and the federal government have long recognized the need to work together to restore and protect the Bay,” the notice says. The first Chesapeake Bay Agreement was signed in 1983 beginning a coordinated effort to restore water quality. In 2007 the states around the Bay and the EPA set a target date of 2025 to put pollution control measures in place, and set limits on pollution.

At the end of 2019, the EPA released an evaluation of each jurisdiction’s efforts in phase three of the Watershed Implementation Plans (WIP). Virginia, Maryland, and DC, the jurisdictions who intend to file the complaint, meet targets and the EPA concluded they are on track to meet the 2025 pollution reduction goals. Pennsylvania and New York did not meet targets.

“Pennsylvania’s Phase III WIP leaves the Bay with an excess of approximately 9 million pounds of nitrogen per year. EPA’s own evaluation concluded that Pennsylvania’s Phase III WIP would meet only 75% of its numeric planning target for nitrogen and, thus, that ‘Pennsylvania’s current planned efforts do not achieve the nitrogen Phase III WIP planning target.’ Nonetheless, EPA has not required Pennsylvania to prepare a Phase III WIP that remedies this deficiency,” the notice says.

New York met only 64 percent of its nitrogen reduction, falling short by almost one million pounds per year according to the EPA. The petitioning jurisdictions say the EPA has not required New York to remedy their deficiency and that the deficiencies reflect a lack of funding.

“The plans submitted by Pennsylvania and New York do not even purport to make the pollution reductions necessary to meet the requirements of the Bay Agreement and the EPA has done nothing,” said Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh.