New CPR Analysis: Chesapeake Bay TMDL Failure Looms

by Matthew Freeman

February 04, 2016

NEWS RELEASE: Analysis of EPA TMDL Data Documents Looming Failure by Chesapeake Bay States to Meet 2017 Pollution-Reduction Goals

In Report & Letters to EPA and Governors, CPR Authors Call on Bay States to Step Up, and on EPA to Begin Enforcement Actions

A new analysis from the Center for Progressive Reform concludes that the efforts of the U.S. Environmental Protect Agency (EPA) to restore the Chesapeake Bay to health is veering off course because of state failures to reduce pollution and EPA’s reluctance to compel state compliance. “Countdown to 2017: Five Years in, Chesapeake Bay TMDL at Risk Without EPA Enforcement” examines progress by the six Bay watershed states and the District of Columbia as they work to reach an EPA-mandated overall “Total Maximum Daily Load” (TMDL) for the Bay, a sort of “pollution diet,” as well as many TMDLs for local waters. The report authors, in letters to EPA and the Bay state governors, note that Pennsylvania’s failures threaten to undermine the entire TMDL, and urge specific reforms for all jurisdictions.

The landmark TMDL agreement between the states and EPA has been considered a model for other watersheds, but with key 2017 interim goals approaching, CPR’s analysis of EPA data finds that several states in the region have fallen behind, endangering the entire effort. The analysis singles out Pennsylvania’s failure to make reductions in its agricultural sector as the most severe threat to achieving the TMDL. In addition, the authors note that several states have made sufficient progress to reach the 2017 goals, but in ways that will position them poorly to meet the final 2025 TMDL.

According to the report co-author, CPR Member Scholar and University of Maryland Carey School of Law professor Rena Steinzor, “The TMDL is the Bay’s last best hope for stopping the Chesapeake from becoming one of the world’s largest dead zones. Voluntary state cooperation has blown past deadline after deadline for restoring the Bay. But it’s becoming clear that Pennsylvania’s foot dragging, and weaknesses in all the other state plans will doom that effort unless, at this crucial midpoint, EPA takes tough action.”

Steinzor’s co-author, CPR Chesapeake Bay analyst co-author Evan Isaacson, added, “Simply put, the success of the Bay pollution-reduction agreement is in serious jeopardy. States throughout the Bay have had different levels of success in meeting the TMDL goals, but unless state governments take swift action soon, the entire project will be derailed and Bay communities will be deprived of the Bay’s natural beauty, as well as its recreational and economic contributions.”

The EPA has several enforcement tools available to compel the states to better meet the TMDL goals, but has yet to implement them, Steinzor and Isaacson write. In a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, they urged EPA  to take swift action, writing,  “Our ultimate conclusion is that unless you warn the states, especially Pennsylvania, in no uncertain terms that they will face the more stringent consequences you have originally established for failure to meet their Bay TMDL milestone commitments, the restoration effort is doomed to fail. Or, in other words, any objective reading of the data shows that without your very strong intervention, we can know today what will happen in ...

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