EPA pans Pa.’s latest Chesapeake Bay clean-up plan | Wednesday Morning Coffee

Despite the criticism, state officials say they remain committed to holding up their end of the bargain

April 20, 2022 6:55 am
A heron is perched on a piling at sunrise on the Chesapeake Bay in Chesapeake Beach.

A heron is perched on a piling at sunrise on the Chesapeake Bay in Chesapeake Beach (Photo by yvonnenavalaney/ Matters).

Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Federal environmental regulators have panned Pennsylvania’s latest plan to meet a 2025 deadline to meet its pollution reduction goals for the Chesapeake Bay, and they’ve given the state 90 days to fix it.

In a recent letter to state Environmental Protection Secretary Patrick McDonnell, a top official at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said that while regulators “appreciate[s]” the state’s efforts to meet the goals included in a clean-up plan known as the “Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint,” they still fall short.

The state’s plan doesn’t meet the clean-up targets for nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment, EPA Regional Administrator Adam Ortiz told McDonnell, and that “some of the methods identified to achieve reductions are not currently approved by the [Chesapeake Bay Program] partnership.” The latter is a reference to the regional compact that’s working together to clean up the multi-state Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

“There remains a nitrogen gap of 9.7 million pounds, a phosphorus gap of 6,000 pounds, and a sediment gap of 48 million pounds,” Ortiz wrote.

Bird and marsh grass along the Chesapeake Bay. (Image via the Virginia Office of Natural Resources).

The state laid out is plan to meet “100 percent” of its bay clean-up goals back in January, the Capital-Star previously reported.

The Keystone State has long been a straggler among bay states, prompting a litany of complaints (and litigation) from other states in the watershed, such as  Virginia and Maryland, as well as the District of Columbia, that the commonwealth wasn’t holding up its end of the bargain.

In 2010, the EPA ordered watershed states, including New York, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania, to reduce their nutrient and sediment pollution levels by 2025. Pennsylvania had to to shed a total of 32.5 million pounds of nitrogen and 0.85 million pounds of phosphorus from bay-bound waterways to meet the requirements, the Capital-Star previously reported.

In his letter to McDonnellOrtiz said the agency was giving the state 90 days to submit an amended clean-up plan that not only closes the nutrient and sediment gaps, but also “[explains the] programmatic enhancements and strategies to increase confidence in meeting the CBP partnership’s 2025 targets.”

Ortiz also said the agency would take additional steps, including “[increased] agriculture and stormwater inspections and enforcement,” and, “as appropriate, redirecting certain federal funding to agencies and programs that can spend it more efficiently in Pennsylvania, and increasing permitting oversight.”

In an email, DEP spokesperson Deborah Klenotic said the agency was “disappointed with [the] EPA’s overall findings.”

The state’s agriculture community and other local stakeholders have made “great strides in reducing pollution, and with the proper resources, can do even more,” Klenotic told the Capital-Star. The state also has taken a series of steps to “significantly accelerate improvement of local waters,” she added.

In addition, Gov. Tom Wolf’s 2022-23 budget proposal includes a $450 million allocation that increases funding “for conservation, recreation, and preservation projects using currently unspent American Rescue Plan funds. If passed by the General Assembly, this initiative would provide tens of millions of dollars to advance Chesapeake Bay efforts,” Klenotic said.

The administration also is committed to working with “leaders in the legislature to clean up Pennsylvania waterways and fulfill our commitment to reducing pollution in the Chesapeake Bay watershed,” Klenotic said.

“We believe that historically implemented programs and practices are providing positive, cumulative on-the-ground effects, but are not being credited in the Bay model toward Pennsylvania’s planning targets,” Klenotic continued. “We look forward to continuing to work with EPA and other jurisdictional, federal, and non-profit partners to ensure that the hurdles identified in the Chesapeake Bay Program Partnership’s Verification Framework Guidance as well as obstacles to ensuring appropriate crediting of practices are overcome expeditiously.”

A marina in Deltaville, which sits near the tip of Virginia’s Middle Peninsula on the Chesapeake Bay. (Sarah Vogelsong/ Virginia Mercury)

In a statement, Harry Campbell, the Pennsylvania science policy and advocacy director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said the EPA’s criticisms of Pennsylvania’s clean-up plan were “a step in the right direction.”

But “until the [state’s] plan is made sufficient and adequate funding is identified, there will be no reasonable assurance of success,” Campbell continued, adding that the “EPA must continue to provide oversight and accountability to ensure the Commonwealth acts. Additional federal and state investments are crucial.”

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10 a.m., Omni William Penn, Pittsburgh: Senate Finance Committee
10:30 a.m., Community College of Allegheny County: House & Senate Democratic Policy committees
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1:30 p.m., Kensey, Pa: House Republican Policy Committee

Gov. Tom Wolf holds a pair of events in Pittsburgh today. At 12 p.m., he’ll speak at the first Keystone Space Collaborative Conference at the Carnegie Science Center. At 1:30 pm., he’ll participate in a ribbon-cutting at Aurora, a self-driving tech firm.

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Wednesday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link
The Toronto Maple Leafs skated past the Philadelphia Flyers 5-2 on Tuesday night. The ‘Leafs are 11-1-1 in their last 13 games.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.