Big Coal Ash Settlement in Pennsylvania Shows One Path Forward for Bay Restoration

by Evan Isaacson | August 08, 2019

Chesapeake Bay and clean water advocates in Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic region celebrated a significant legal win last week as Talen Energy, owner of the notorious Brunner Island coal-fired power plant, agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP). The settlement is big news first and foremost because it will result in the closure and excavation of a massive coal ash disposal pond and the treatment of a number of other ponds, thus eliminating a significant source of pollution contaminating water supplies for residents in Central Pennsylvania. The successful settlement and the widespread press coverage that followed also serve as a pointed reminder of the importance of citizen enforcement of our environmental laws.

Under the settlement, Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will collect a $1 million penalty from Talen Energy. That's particularly notable because DEP was not an original plaintiff in this case. EIP filed on behalf of three environmental organizations that represent thousands of concerned Pennsylvanians because, despite years of violations at this high-profile industrial site, the Commonwealth took no action to stop the ongoing contamination until citizens and their lawyers first announced their intent to sue.

Any number of reasons could explain the inaction of DEP and state officials, from deficient resources to regulatory capture. Regardless of the reason, the Brunner Island settlement teaches an important lesson: Concerned citizens can move agencies to ...

EPA Abandons Role at the Center of the Chesapeake Bay Accountability Framework

by Evan Isaacson | June 26, 2019
On June 21, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its evaluation of the third and final round of state Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) under the Chesapeake Bay restoration framework known as the "Bay TMDL" (Total Maximum Daily Load). EPA's evaluation of the seven Bay jurisdictions broke no new ground regarding the quality or contents of the states' plans, but instead reiterated many of the same findings and concerns expressed by advocates, including the ones I expressed with my colleague David ...

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 ...

One Stat That May Help Us Understand Why Bay Progress Continues to Lag

by Evan Isaacson | April 08, 2019
The Chesapeake Bay Program has just compiled its annual data assessing progress toward the watershed-wide pollution reduction target under the Bay restoration framework known as the "Bay TMDL." The bottom line is that recent gains in Bay health could soon be eclipsed by the lagging pace of pollution reductions, with the likely result that the region will fall well short of the Bay TMDL 2025 target date to achieve the reductions needed to restore the Bay's health. One of the ...

Chesapeake Bay Year in Review: A Beneath-the-Headlines Look at Some of the Biggest Restoration and Clean-up Issues

by Evan Isaacson | December 12, 2018
It's that point in the year when we take a step back and reflect on the past 12 months. This was a big year for those concerned about restoring the Chesapeake Bay, with plenty of feel-good stories about various species and ecosystems rebounding more quickly than expected. There were also more than a few headlines about record-setting rainfalls washing trash down the rivers, over dams, and coating the Bay's shores. But I am going to look beneath the headlines at ...

Bay Journal Op-Ed: State Pollution-Permitting Must Be Reformed to Adapt to Climate Change

by David Flores | November 01, 2018
This op-ed originally ran in the Bay Journal. Reprinted with permission. Recent extreme weather — Hurricanes Harvey and Florence — caused widespread toxic contamination of floodwaters after low-lying chemical plants, coal ash storage facilities and hog waste lagoons were inundated. Such storm-driven chemical disasters demonstrate that state water pollution permitting programs are overdue for reforms that account for stronger and more intense hurricanes and heavy rainfall events, sea level rise and extreme heat. As the District of Columbia and the states ...

EPA Releases Assessment of Chesapeake Bay Restoration Progress

by Evan Isaacson | July 27, 2018
Today, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Office of the Environmental Protection Agency officially released its assessment of Chesapeake Bay restoration progress. This marked the formal conclusion of the multi-year process known as the "midpoint assessment" for the Chesapeake's cleanup plan. 2017 represents the halfway point for the cleanup, at which time state and federal partners were supposed to have reached 60 percent of their final 2025 nutrient and sediment pollution reduction targets. Unfortunately, 2017 will go down as another in a long ...

What Does Kavanaugh's Supreme Court Nomination Mean for Chesapeake Bay Restoration Effort?

by Evan Isaacson | July 25, 2018
This post is part of a series on Judge Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. President Trump's nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court has enormous environmental and public health implications – true of any high court nomination, but particularly true in this case because he would replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, the high court's long-time swing vote. As it stands, Kavanaugh has already had an outsized impact on the shape and direction of environmental ...

EPA Releases Expectations for Chesapeake Bay States

by Evan Isaacson | June 22, 2018
This is an update to an earlier post explaining why the release of EPA’s TMDL expectations is important. These posts are part of an ongoing series on the midpoint assessment and long-term goals of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort.  This week, EPA’s Mid-Atlantic regional office released its final expectations for how states and their federal partners are to implement the third and final phase of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup process, which runs from 2018 to 2025. The good news is ...

Approaching the Chesapeake Bay Midpoint Assessment -- Part II

by Mariah Davis | June 21, 2018
Yesterday in this space, I took a look at the progress that three Chesapeake Bay watershed states – New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia – have made in implementing their Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs), on their way – perhaps – to meeting the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) pollution reduction targets for 2025. In this post, I'll take a look at Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC. Delaware The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) is leading ...

Approaching the Chesapeake Bay Midpoint Assessment -- Part I

by Mariah Davis | June 20, 2018
The Chesapeake Bay restoration effort is arguably one of the largest conservation endeavors ever undertaken. The Bay watershed is made up of 150 major rivers and streams and contains 100,000 smaller tributaries spread across Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. It supplies drinking water for more than 17 million residents and is one of the most important economic drivers on the East Coast of the United States. The Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily ...

Bay Journal Op-Ed: 'Stopping Rules' Would Say When It's Time to Shift from Debating to Acting

by David Flores | June 11, 2018
This op-ed originally ran in the Bay Journal. Reprinted with permission. Science is hard, environmental policy is complicated and regulatory science can seem endlessly confounding. It does not have to be. Earlier this year, the Chesapeake Bay partners stepped into a time-worn trap, heeding calls from overly cautious states to wait for more refined scientific modeling of climate change impacts before taking action to eliminate pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Having punted action until 2021 at the earliest, ...

CPR's 2018 Op-Eds, Part One

by Matthew Freeman | April 11, 2018
CPR’s Member Scholars and staff are off to a fast start on the op-ed front in 2018. We list them all on our op-ed page, but here’s a quick roundup of pieces they’ve placed so far. Member Scholar Alejandro Camacho joins his UC-Irvine colleague Michael Robinson-Dorn in a piece published by The Conversation. In "Turning power over to states won't improve protection for endangered species," they summarize their recent analysis of state endangered species laws and state funding for enforcement. They ...

Halftime for the Chesapeake Bay: New Webpage on Midpoint Assessment of Pollution Cleanup Effort

by Evan Isaacson | April 09, 2018
The Center for Progressive Reform has been closely watching the development and implementation of the Chesapeake Bay restoration plan since its inception. As part of our ongoing commitment to ensure the success of the plan, known as the Bay TMDL, we have developed a new web-based resource focused on the issues and decisions related to the TMDL's midpoint assessment process. The page is a one-stop shop for advocates, members of the media, and residents concerned about restoring the health of the Chesapeake Bay, as well ...

What Happens on the Land Happens to the Water

by Evan Isaacson | March 29, 2018
This post is part of an ongoing series on the midpoint assessment and long-term goals of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort. In my last post, I described how a database housed by the Maryland Department of the Environment allows tracking of land development activities in real time. This database not only gives us the ability to track the recent scale and pattern of habitat destruction in Maryland, but it also can be used by regulators to build a tool that will allow ...

What the Failure to Account for Growth Looks Like in Maryland

by Evan Isaacson | March 28, 2018
This post is part of an ongoing series on the midpoint assessment and long-term goals of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort. In a recent post, I described the broad failure of Chesapeake Bay states to follow EPA's basic expectations to account for pollution growth under the restoration framework known as the Bay TMDL. This failure is one important contributor to the current state of the Bay restoration, which is years behind schedule. If states don't hold the line on new pollution by ...

Holding the Line on New Pollution While We Clean Up the Chesapeake Bay

by Evan Isaacson | March 21, 2018
This post is part of an ongoing series on the midpoint assessment and long-term goals of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort.  A few weeks ago, I discussed why the periodic written "expectations" from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are critically important to the Chesapeake Bay's restoration. These expectations communicate to the state and federal partners in the Chesapeake cleanup effort what they need to do and when in order to implement the coordinated plan of action necessary to reach the ...

EPA Isn't the Only Place Where Enforcement Is Being Put on Ice

by Evan Isaacson | March 01, 2018
Recently, the Environmental Integrity Project released a report highlighting the freeze that Administrator Scott Pruitt has placed on the enforcement of the nation's environmental laws. The headline figures are stunning: "Civil Cases for Pollution Violations Decline by 44 Percent and Penalties Down by 49 Percent." And these numbers may understate the situation, as former EPA officials have noted that some of the cases and penalties that the agency has been touting were brought by the previous administration, not Pruitt's EPA.  ...

Chesapeake Bay

The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in North America, home to more than 3,600 species of plants and animals. The Chesapeake Bay watershed—the land that drains into the Bay—encompasses parts of six states and Washington, D.C. This national treasure has been deteriorating since the 1930s. The Obama Administration made important progress, however, pressing states to reduce pollution flowing into the Bay.. 

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