Virginia, Maryland, D.C. to sue EPA over failure to enforce pollution reduction targets in Chesapeake Bay

Virginia, Maryland, D.C. to sue EPA over failure to enforce pollution reduction targets in Chesapeake Bay
Bird and marsh grass along the Chesapeake Bay.

Four and a half months after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s top Chesapeake Bay official called the goals of the decades-old Chesapeake Bay Program merely “aspirational,” Virginia is joining Maryland and the District of Columbia in legal action that aims to force the EPA to enforce state pollution reduction plans.

On Monday, Attorneys General Mark Herring of Virginia, Brian Frosh of Maryland and Karl Racine of Washington, D.C. notified the EPA that they intend to sue Administrator Andrew Wheeler for violating the federal Clean Water Act by failing to ensure that Pennsylvania and New York meet water pollution standards set by the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement in 2014.

A separate notice of intent to sue was also sent simultaneously by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Maryland Watermen’s Association, Anne Arundel County in Maryland and Swoope, Va. cattle farmer and conservationist Robert Whitescarver.

“As the administrator of the agreement, the EPA has to enforce its terms,” said Herring in a press call Monday morning. “Instead the Trump EPA is rubber-stamping plans that are plainly inadequate and allowing some watershed states to do less than they’re supposed to.”

EPA has 60 days to resolve the concerns outlined in the notices before lawsuits can be formally filed, although Chesapeake Bay Foundation President Will Baker said “it’s unlikely” the federal government will take action.

The lawsuits will center on deficiencies in Pennsylvania and New York’s Phase III Watershed Implementation Plans, which were submitted to the EPA for review in August 2019.

These documents act as detailed roadmaps for each jurisdiction to meet specific reduction targets for nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment, the primary causes of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.

The Phase III WIPs represent the final five years of the decades-long cleanup effort, with a deadline of 2025 for all states to meet the targets.

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.