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Three state AGs to sue EPA over PA's, NY's Chesapeake Bay pollution loads

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

State attorneys general in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia on Monday filed notice in court that they intend to sue the federal Environmental Protection Agency for failing to force Pennsylvania and New York to comply with a Chesapeake Bay pollution-reduction agreement.

The EPA, under the Trump administration, has failed "to force Pennsylvania and New York State to meet their Chesapeake Bay cleanup obligations under a 2010 regional agreement with a deadline of 2025," according to the Environmental Integrity Project.

Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh said both Pennsylvania and New York agreed to develop and implement plans to restore the health of the bay by 2025.

"Under the Clean Water Act, EPA has a nondiscretionary duty" to ensure management plans are developed and implemented to conform with the bay's total maximum daily load of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, as well as to reduce the amount of sediment in the bay, according to Frosh's news release.

Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project, is a former EPA director of civil enforcement who said the administration of President Donald Trump "has really fallen down on its job to enforce the Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan."

The Susquehanna River, which runs along York County's eastern border with Lancaster County, empties into the Chesapeake Bay.

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection spokesperson Deborah Klenotic said the Chesapeake Bay partnership and plans "were always intended to be a collaborative effort among the seven jurisdictions in the watershed," and that a lawsuit "would undermine the cooperative spirit of that partnership" and "fail to advance our common goal to improve water quality" in the bay.

The state is working with county governments, business and agriculture leaders and community advocates including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to improve the bay's water quality, she said.

Biggest polluter: Schaeffer noted in a written statement that Pennsylvania adds the largest share of pollution to the bay but that the EPA has done little "to reduce agricultural pollution and even sewage overflows from ... Harrisburg."

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania "has been slashing the budget and staffing of its Department of Environmental Protection," according to Schaeffer.

Klenotic told The York Dispatch that Gov. Tom Wolf's predecessor made significant cuts to DEP and that Wolf "has pressed the Legislature for additional resources for DEP to keep pace with the continued growth of responsibilities of the agency."

In addition, she said, the state DEP "has pursued new and updated fees for regulated entities to ensure that critical operations can continue and be bolstered."

The attorneys general's notice of their intent to sue the federal EPA and its administrator states that Pennsylvania is required by the agreement to reduce its nitrogen pollution by about 33.8 million pounds per year, but that it appears the state will reduce that amount by only 24.8 million pounds — a 9 million pound difference.

Ice moves along the Susquehanna River in Wrightsville, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

New York's plan falls short of its agreed-upon target by nearly 1 million pounds per year, officials said.

A recent evaluation of the bay's watershed improvement plan by the EPA concluded that Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia will meet their required pollution-load reductions by 2025, and it also concluded that both Pennsylvania's and New York's submitted plans were "deficient," according to Frosh.

Despite the finding, the EPA has done nothing to require either state to submit plans that will meet the pollution-reduction goals, according to Frosh's news release, in which he states that the EPA "has abandoned its responsibility to regulate and manage the efforts of the Bay states."

'Rubber-stamped': Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring noted in his news release that instead of ensuring that every state in the agreement is "pulling its weight," the Trump administration's EPA "simply rubberstamped plans that are plainly inadequate."

District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine noted in his news release that failures to reduce pollution loads to agreed-upon levels place "additional burdens on all the other states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed."

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation gives media a tour of the upper bay and lower Susquehanna River to highlight the improvements and threats to the watershed, Wednesday, April 12, 2017.  John A. Pavoncello photo

Racine said the coalition of state attorneys general "will not allow the EPA to walk away from its enforcement obligations and undermine decades of work to reduce pollution."

The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States and home to thousands of plant and animal species. Its watershed spans 64,000 square miles and includes rivers and streams in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, the District of Columbia, New York and West Virginia, according to the Environmental Integrity Project.

— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.

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