Chesapeake Bay State Plans to Protect Watershed, Reduce Pollution Fall Short

by Brian Gumm

May 16, 2019

In April, states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed published drafts of the latest iteration of plans to reduce pollution and protect their rivers and streams. New analyses from the Center for Progressive Reform show that the plans fall far short of what is needed to restore the health and ecological integrity of the Chesapeake Bay.

The draft plans, known as Phase III watershed implementation plans (WIPs), were developed as part of the Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) framework that includes all the states in the Chesapeake watershed. CPR Policy Analysts David Flores and Evan Isaacson focused on three states – Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia – that are responsible for nearly 90 percent of nitrogen pollution to the Chesapeake and represent more than 90 percent of the remaining pollution reductions needed to reach the final 2025 pollution reduction target.

Isaacson examined and evaluated the draft WIPs with several criteria in mind, including new laws, regulations, and funding; contingency planning; enforcement; consistency with EPA expectations; and environmental justice. Maryland and Pennsylvania have a lot of work to do if they're serious about addressing significant shortcomings in all these areas and more. While Virginia's plan was the best of the three, the Commonwealth's draft still needs significant improvement to give the public confidence and allow residents to hold Virginia accountable for meeting its Bay restoration obligations.

Maryland fell short of meeting its 2017 interim nitrogen reduction target for restoring the Chesapeake Bay. Because the status quo is not enough, the state’s final WIP should describe in detail the additional laws, programs, and funding that will propel the state toward its final 2025 pollution reduction targets. The draft plan suffers from a complete lack of transparency or clarity. We recommend the state provide significantly more detail about what it plans to do to reach its final pollution reduction targets and ensure its plan is consistent with the expectations that the Environmental Protection Agency established in 2018.

Pennsylvania has fallen far short of meeting its pollution reduction targets for restoring the Chesapeake Bay. If the Chesapeake has any hope of finally being restored, it will require a substantial new commitment by Pennsylvania to reduce pollution in its local waters. The place for this to start is with a solid WIP. The Commonwealth recently released its draft plan to describe the new strategies and additional laws, programs, and funding that will be needed to catalyze a major course correction. However, the draft is deficient in several key ways and, importantly, does not appear to even aim for the pollution reduction target that the Chesapeake Bay Program says is necessary to restore the Bay. The Environmental Protection Agency must immediately respond by requiring Pennsylvania to revise its plan to be calibrated to the pollution reductions the Bay needs.

Virginia has a lot to be proud of in its effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay. The Commonwealth met its pollution reduction targets for the midpoint of the Bay restoration effort in 2017. And the draft WIP that Virginia released to describe how it will reach its final 2025 targets has some strong components. However, the draft plan is deficient in several ways, and we recommend the Commonwealth strengthen its plan to be consistent with the expectations that the Environmental Protection Agency established in 2018, as well as the expectations that local advocates conveyed to the Commonwealth more recently.

Because climate change is likely to increase pollution loads in the Chesapeake watershed, Flores specifically looked at whether the states' draft plans took climate change into account and proposed concrete steps to adapt to climate impacts. He found that while these WIPs are the first to respond to the various effects of climate change on the watershed, they come up short in the efforts they propose.

On their face, the draft plans begin to broadly address climate mitigation and adaptation needs. But they lack the necessary detail to substantiate processes and measurable outcomes that together ensure the planned restoration will be climate-resilient. Put differently, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia have all largely failed to explain how their climate efforts are aligned with the Chesapeake cleanup plans and their intended results.

Want to learn more? You can read the full watershed implementation plan analyses on CPR's website. You can also help us spread the word by retweeting us and sharing our infographic on Facebook.

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Brian Gumm is the Communications Director at the Center for Progressive Reform. Prior to joining CPR in March 2016, he spent nearly a decade in several roles at the Center for Effective Government, including communications director and senior writer.

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