WASHINGTON — A group of 39 lawmakers is urging a federal court to block the Obama administration's plan to clean up the Chesapeake Bay watershed, describing it as an unjustified power grab.
The filing in the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia puts the lawmakers alongside 21 attorneys general who already oppose the cleanup, a case testing the Environmental Protection Agency's authority under the Clean Water Act. The filing was submitted late last week.
Republican Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and David Vitter of Louisiana, the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, signed onto the opposition brief, as well as Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, chairman of the House Committee on the Judiciary and Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture.
Also signing the brief were four House members from Pennsylvania — Reps. Bill Shuster, Lou Barletta, Scott Perry and Glenn Thompson.
The filing comes after the court's deadline for submitting legal papers in the case. But the lawmakers argue they have a special interest in weighing in, saying the EPA went too far in negotiating a 2010 agreement that sets pollution limits in the nation's largest estuary.
Lawmakers "have a clear interest in ensuring that Congress's supreme legislative and policymaking role is not usurped by unelected executive branch agencies," they wrote. "If allowed to stand, the decision ... would allow EPA to usurp the traditional state authority over economic development and land-use management decisions."
At issue is a federal-led effort to restore the 64,000-square-mile Chesapeake watershed by 2025. In 2009, President Barack Obama issued an executive order for a bay restoration after decades of state inaction, prompting the EPA to seek agreements with six states and the District of Columbia that set standards to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment that drain from rivers into the bay.
The multistate agreement was challenged in 2011 by the American Farm Bureau Federation, which pointed to economic consequences for industry groups.
A recent study by environmentalists found states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed have made strides in reducing pollution but in many cases fell short in implementing practices that cut contaminants from agriculture. Farm runoff such as animal waste and fertilizer has created "dead zones" in the bay where nothing lives, taking a toll on the bay's signature blue crab.
Among the states that agreed to the Chesapeake plan, West Virginia is now opposing the cleanup. Pennsylvania and New York are staying silent in the litigation, while Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and the District of Columbia signed briefs in support.
William C. Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said states have made clear they will abide by the cleanup. "The Bay states have already spoken on behalf of clean water, as have over 50 state and local governments, environmental groups, and lawyers who filed timely briefs in support of Bay restoration," he said.