Maryland Gov. Hogan moves to sue Pa. for ‘falling short’ in Chesapeake clean-up

By: - January 9, 2020 5:15 pm

Saying that it’s repeatedly failed to uphold its commitments to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland’s Republican governor has directed his state’s top prosecutor to sue Pennsylvania in federal court. 

Gov. Larry Hogan made the request in a Wednesday letter to Attorney General Brian Frosh. 

He also asked Frosh, a Democrat, to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which Hogan says has failed to ensure Pennsylvania’s compliance with a 2014 water improvement plan. 

“Pennsylvania and the EPA must hold up their end of the [clean-up] bargain,” Hogan wrote. “We have a generational obligation to protect the bay, and we simply cannot fall short of these shared obligations.”

Pennsylvania does not border the Chesapeake Bay, the vast estuary in Maryland and Virginia with headwaters in the Susquehanna River. But it’s the source of half of the bay’s freshwater and much of its pollution. 

In 2014, six states and the District of Columbia signed an agreement to restore water quality in the bay by reducing agricultural, industrial and residential runoff by 2025. 

Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia had the most aggressive pollution reduction goals, but the Keystone State’s progress has lagged far behind its neighbors.

The Commonwealth currently faces a $324 million funding gap to complete its water improvement plan by 2025.

In his letter, Hogan said the EPA has “made excuses” for Pennsylvania as it fell short of its targets. Federal regulators also appeared unconcerned by the “obvious inadequacy” of Pennsylvania’s water improvement plan for the next five years. 

The news of the potential lawsuit came on the same day that Pennsylvania lawmakers received a briefing on Bay cleanup efforts at the Pennsylvania Farm Show, an annual agricultural convention in Harrisburg.

There, the state senator in charge of environmental legislation told the Capital-Star that Pennsylvania’s chances of meeting the 2025 goals “are not likely.”

Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming, who chairs the state Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, said Pennsylvania would not create new fees to fund Bay conservation efforts, as Maryland and Virginia have. 

Yaw also said that “nobody knows what the EPA will do” if Pennsylvania blows past its 2025 pollution reduction deadline.  

But as Hogan wrote in his letter, “the EPA currently appears to have no intention of taking the necessary action to ensure Pennsylvania’s compliance with its commitments.”

J.J. Abbott, a spokesman for Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, responded to the lawsuit on Wednesday, telling the Baltimore-Sun it would divert resources from Pennsylvania’s pollution reduction efforts.

He added, “Governor Hogan’s time would be better spent convincing his Republican counterparts in Pennsylvania to support Governor Wolf’s plan” to raise new revenue for environmental projects. 

Wolf administration officials who testified at the Senate hearing Wednesday said Wolf’s ambitious Restore PA plan could provide crucial funds for water quality projects.

The plan calls for the state to borrow $4.5 billion to fund infrastructure and environmental projects. It would pay the balance back over 20 years with a new tax on natural gas production. 

The plan has been met with fierce resistance from Democrats who say a 20-year commitment to natural gas drilling would set Pennsylvania back in the fight against climate change.

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Elizabeth Hardison
Elizabeth Hardison

Elizabeth Hardison covered education policy, election administration, criminal justice and legislative news for the Capital-Star from Jan. 2019-April 2021. You can find her on Twitter @ElizHardison.