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January 14, 2014
Bay group faults federal contribution

In a review, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) states that the federal government is falling short of its commitments to improve the troubled health of the 200-mile estuary and the 64,000-square-mile watershed that drains into it.  The 40-year-old CBF describes itself as the “private-sector voice” that “prods and assists” government in protecting the Bay, its watershed, and the 17 million residents of the region. 

The review notes that progress is being made by the six Bay states in meeting the pollution reduction targets (or total maximum daily loads) the EPA established for nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution; those reductions are intended to restore the fishable and swimmable quality of the Bay and its rivers and streams.  However, according to the CBF, the federal government is not holding up its end of the bargain in three areas.

  • Forest buffers.  Establishing forest buffers is one of the most important practices to control discharges of that pollutant to Bay waters, says the CBF.  State pollution reduction plans call for roughly an additional 185,000 acres of forest buffers by 2025, an average increase of 14,200 acres per year.  But in 2012, only about 2,600 acres of buffers were added. This is less than 20 percent of the amount needed annually and one of the lowest acreage gains since the late 1990s. The CBF attributes the shortfall to congressional inaction on the Farm Bill.  The 2008 Farm Bill prioritized buffer planting and provided additional assistance to the region's farmers.  However, much of that funding expired this fall when Congress failed to pass an extension of the legislation.  


  • Air pollution.  The CBF points out that federal courts have ruled that sources of air pollution that are known to directly discharge pollutants into waters of the United States can be regulated under the Clean Water Act (CWA) as well as the Clean Air Act.  Under the Clean Water Blueprint for the Bay, the EPA committed to reducing nitrogen pollution from the air by an estimated 3 million pounds.  That reduction was expected to be achieved by air pollution regulations that have now been tied up in court for years.  And those regulations only cover coal-fired power plants.  The CBF review calls on the Agency to utilize its CWA authority to address nitrogen pollution from all major polluters, including asphalt plants, cement kilns, and pulp and paper manufacturers, as well as coal plants within the Chesapeake Bay airshed.
  • Permits.  The CBF is concerned that permits approved by the EPA and intended to reduce polluted runoff from urban and suburban areas are not in compliance with the CWA.  “They fail to set deadlines and regular benchmarks for reducing pollution from runoff, fail to promote the kinds of runoff control practices that would best protect water quality in the rivers and streams the runoff enters, and fail to require adequate monitoring of results,” states the CFB.  The group points to permits issued in three Bay states that lack ascertainable metrics for meeting water quality standards, require no chemical monitoring to ensure that pollution limits are being met, and do not explain the kinds of plans localities must implement to ensure transparency and accountability and that pollution is reduced and deadlines met. 

"The federal government must step up its oversight and clearly define the actions it will take over the next two years to ensure progress,” said CBF scientist Beth McGee.

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