Chesapeake Bay group planning to sue the EPA
MARYLAND— The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and its partners will file a complaint suing the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for abdicating its responsibilities under the Clean Water Act.
CBF said in a press release that the EPA has failed to require Pennsylvania and New York to develop plans to sufficiently reduce pollution as was required by the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint, established in 2010, and re-confirmed in the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Agreement. The suit will be filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.
CBF’s partners in the suit are Anne Arundel County, Maryland, the Maryland Watermen’s Association, and Robert Whitescarver and Jeanne Hoffman, who operate a livestock farm in Virginia.
Underscoring the damage this will cause for Bay restoration efforts, Attorneys General in Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, and the District of Columbia will also file a separate suit in the District
of Columbia Federal District Court.
“This is the moment in time for the Chesapeake Bay. If EPA fails to hold Pennsylvania, and to a lesser extent New York, accountable the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint will be yet another in a series of failures for Bay restoration,” CBF President William C. Baker said.
“It doesn’t have to be this way. Under the Blueprint we have seen progress. But unless pressure is brought to bear on Pennsylvania, we will never get to the finish line.”
In the past dozen years, CBF said it has been successful in litigation to support Bay restoration. First, to have EPA commit to the science-based pollution limits that EPA then agreed to issue with the Blueprint in 2010. And second, to help defend the Blueprint from attacks by the American Farm Bureau Federation and its allies in federal court.
In the second case, the Blueprint was upheld by a federal court judge in Pennsylvania, who found that the federal/state partnership was legal and the science sound, 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 make the case that the Blueprint was legal, pointing to damage to local communities and businesses that depend on clean water.
Once again, the appeals court upheld the Blueprint, reaffirming EPA’s authority and responsibilities. The court also addressed the requirement that state plans provide ‘reasonable assurance’ that the plans will succeed, saying that EPA’s acceptance of plans without such assurance would be arbitrary and capricious.
CBF said litigation is a last resort. CBF, its partners, and the Attorneys General have twice formally offered to meet with EPA and discuss the claims, but EPA did not respond.
According to the CBF, Pennsylvania’s plan to meet the 2025 goals in the Blueprint contains improvements over past plans, including prioritized county-level plans. However, as approved by EPA, it specifically identifies how the Commonwealth will achieve only roughly 73 percent of its 31 million-pound nitrogen-reduction commitment, and the implementation plan is underfunded by more than $300 million dollars a year.
In New York’s plan the state’s nitrogen shortfall exceeded 1 million pounds annually and it failed to adequately identify funding sources for meeting agricultural and stormwater commitments.
Despite the deficiencies, CBF said the 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.
“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,” Baker added.
“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.”