Report Says Pennsylvania Isn't Doing Enough To Help Clean Up Chesapeake Bay
A new report on a Chesapeake Bay restoration initiative says it’s at risk of failing in part because Pennsylvania is off track to meet pollution reduction goals.
Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania are responsible for about 90 percent of the pollution in the Bay, according to the nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
The new analysis by the foundation finds Virginia and Maryland have had success toward meeting 2025 pollution cleanup goals. But Pennsylvania, which accounts for the largest share of pollution into the watershed, has done less to reduce nutrient and sediment runoff.
"We’ve seen some progress absolutely," said Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William Baker. "But due to Pennsylvania’s shortfall, success is now in jeopardy."
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection declined to comment for this story.
The restoration goals are part of the Clean Water Blueprint, which aims to ensure major pollution reductions in the bay by 2025. States must adopt policies and strategies to cut the amount of nutrient and sediment runoff into the watershed.
Nitrogen and phosphorus from sewage pollution and farm and lawn fertilizers harm aquatic vegetation and sea life by clouding waters and stripping them of oxygen.
The latest report by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation — which advocates for a cleaner bay — used scientific models from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to estimate pollution reductions made over the last 10 years. It also analyzed how well states have implemented practices to meet their cleanup goals.
The report says Virginia and Maryland must do more to limit polluted stormwater runoff from urban and expanding suburban areas. Virginia should step up monitoring to reduce ammonia emmissions from poultry houses and reduce farm runoff from cattle wandering in streams. The commonwealth could also help local governments pay for runoff reduction projects by increasing its Stormwater Local Assistance Funds.
Still, the foundation says both states are currently on course to meet their cleanup goals thanks to cuts in nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from wastewater treatment facilities. Peggy Sanner, the foundation's Virginia executive director, said the most progress has been at treatment plants in the Potomac and Shenandoah watersheds. More improvements are necessary around the James and York watersheds.
Maryland has also invested in better farm management practices. Natural filters like pastures help prevent fertilizer runoff into the Chesapeake Bay’s tributaries.
Pennsylvania, however, isn’t meeting its reduction obligations. The report argues the state has reduced some pollution from treatment plans. But agriculture dominates Pennsylvania’s land around the bay watershed, and the state hasn’t done enough to limit farm runoff.
The analysis says farms need more "financial and technical assistance" to establish plans that address pollution from fertilizers and manure. Intensifying rain storms caused by climate change could increase runoff into waterways.
"Clean and abundant water is critical to Pennsylvania’s economy, the health and well-being of its citizens, its outdoor heritage and quality of life," Henry Campbell — the Bay Foundation’s Pennsylvania policy and advocacy director — said in a news release.
"But success will be achieved only if, and when, the state makes sufficient investments in clean water. To date, that hasn’t happened."
The EPA is supposed to ensure that states are meeting the pollution reduction goals. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Virginia and Maryland have said they will sue the agency for letting Pennsylvania as well as New York lag behind in their restoration efforts.
In 2019, Pennsylvania and New York submitted plans for how they will meet the 2025 pollution reduction requirements. An EPA evaluation said the plans fell short. Pennsylvania’s would achieve just 75% of the required nitrogen pollution reduction, while New York’s would achieve just 66% of the required nitrogen reduction.
EPA officials have said they’re trying to work with states to solve problems with the Chesapeake Bay.