EPA, Maryland officials tout Pa.’s new commitment to Chesapeake Bay cleanup

The Conowingo Dam, where sediment and other pollution from Pennsylvania often spills into the Chesapeake Bay. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, photograph by Carol M. Highsmith.

Pennsylvania’s commitment of $220 million to a new fund dedicated to reducing pollution in the state’s waterways could prove “a remarkable turning point” in efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, a senior U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official said Thursday.

“We will now see a new trajectory in the restoration of the bay,” said Adam Ortiz, EPA Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator, during a press call on the creation of the new Clean Streams Fund. and a new bill passed by the Pennsylvania Legislature that sets standards for the use of fertilizers, a major source of water pollution.

Pennsylvania State Sen. Scott Martin (R-Lancaster) said messages focused on clean water in the state rather than cleaning up the bay had proven to be “game-changing by convincing lawmakers to pass the Fertilizer Bill and spend $220 million on the federal US bailout bill. dollars to the new fund. Of this amount, $154 million is for a program that will provide cost-shared assistance to farmers who agree to adopt certain conservation practices that will reduce pollution.

Maryland State Senator Sarah Elfreth (D-Anne Arundel) called the funding “a watershed moment for Pennsylvania.”

“What happens upstream has a huge impact on our lives here,” she said.

As the 2025 federal deadline for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, the nation’s largest estuary, approaches, the pressure on Pennsylvania is mounting.

Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia are the biggest contributors of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution to the bay, where decades of excess nutrients and soil have led to widespread death of plant species and animal. Pennsylvania alone is responsible for 43% of the nitrogen flows into the bay, Virginia state Sen. Lynwood Lewis (D-Accomack) said Thursday.

States have worked with the EPA to reduce pollution flows since the 1980s, with varying success. Beginning in 2010, President Obama’s administration imposed a “pollution regime” on the bay that required all six states (plus Washington, D.C.) within the watershed to meet major reduction targets by 2025.

But while Virginia and Maryland have invested heavily in cleanup efforts and have largely met EPA-mandated requirements to date, Pennsylvania is stubbornly lagging behind.

In September 2020, Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. sued the EPA, claiming the agency under former President Trump’s administration failed to enforce Bay Bay pollution reduction limits. Chesapeake for Pennsylvania and New York. The EPA’s review found that states’ cleanup plans would still leave them millions of pounds short of their 2025 nitrogen reduction targets.

Ortiz, the former environment director for Montgomery and Prince George counties in Maryland, said Thursday he could not speak about the pending litigation but was “optimistic” about its outcome.

The EPA has in recent months stepped up its enforcement of Pennsylvania. Last April, Ortiz sent a letter to Pennsylvania Environmental Protection Secretary Patrick McDonnell identifying continuing deficiencies in the state’s cleanup plan and advising him that the EPA would increase inspection measures. and application.

“We wanted to hold the state more accountable,” he said Thursday, adding that inspectors had already uncovered a number of long-term violations in the state.

Rick Ebert, president of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, said farmers are ready to adopt conservation practices to reduce pollution.

“We are limited in our resources,” he warned. “Our margins are slim.”

Other states, including Virginia, have long had cost-sharing programs in place to encourage farmers to adopt management strategies such as fencing off waterways and planting trees as buffers around Waterways.

“We know firsthand in Virginia what these cost-shared programs can do,” Lewis said. With the money available, “thousands of farmers will come forward”, he added.

Martin acknowledged that the current $220 million allocation for the Clean Streams Fund is one-time funding.

ARPA funds were a “great way out of the gate,” he said. “What we need to do is find the right mechanism that will give us sustainable funding in the future.”

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