Report cites reduction in Chesapeake Bay nitrogen pollution but urges more action needed

Achieving further nitrogen pollution reductions in the Chesapeake Bay will require tougher state permitting and improved oversight of the results, according to a new report from the Environmental Integrity Project.

Washington, D.C., Dec. 6, 2012 -- There have been some impressive gains in reducing nitrogen pollution of the Chesapeake Bay by municipal and industrial sources, but achieving further reductions will require tougher state permitting and improved oversight of the results, according to a new report from the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP).

EIP found that nitrogen discharges from industrial and municipal wastewater treatment plants to the Chesapeake Bay watershed declined significantly in Maryland and Virginia in 2011, thanks to a big public investment in sewage treatment upgrades in both states. Pennsylvania nitrogen loadings from these point sources actually increased 4 percent in 2011, moving that state further from achieving Bay water quality goals that begin to take effect in 2017.

At the same time, illegal discharges from municipal and industrial sources in all states added nearly 800,000 pounds of nitrogen and phosphorus to the Chesapeake Bay watershed in 2011, with more than 12 percent of the largest facilities being out of compliance with permit limits for three months or longer.

Across the watershed, the following eight significant municipal and industrial point sources increased their nitrogen loadings from 2010 to 2011 by 50,000 pounds or more, though some of these facilities will undergo upgrades to meet Chesapeake Bay goals:

1. Honeywell International, Inc.: 243,049 pounds.
2. Cargill Meat Solutions Corp.: 127,870 pounds.
3. Harrisburg Advanced Wastewater Treatment Facility: 125,880 pounds.
4. Lancaster City Wastewater Treatment Plant: 121,148 pounds.
5. Shamokin Coal Township Joint Sewer Authority: 93,555 pounds.
6. Milton Regional Sewer Authority Wastewater Treatment Plant: 85,583 pounds.
7. Scranton Sewer Authority Wastewater Treatment Plant: 55,078 pounds.
8. Dover Township Wastewater Treatment Plant: 50,172 pounds.

The Chesapeake Bay is the nation’s largest estuary, with a watershed spanning 16,000 square miles and containing more than 10,000 rivers and streams. The clean-up plan for the Chesapeake Bay requires pollution reduction efforts in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Washington, D.C., New York, and West Virginia.

The EIP report focuses on industrial and municipal point sources -- the public sewage systems and industrial plants that account for about 20 percent of the nitrogen and nearly a quarter of the phosphorus that ends up in the Bay. These pollutants promote algae growth and rob the Bay of the oxygen needed to sustain fish and other aquatic life. The Bay clean-up plan adopted by EPA sets targets for reducing nitrogen and phosphorus from these point sources based on “wasteload allocations” that limit annual discharges from the biggest plants.

Former U.S. Senator Joseph Tydings, a long-time champion of the Chesapeake Bay, said: “The good news is that big public investments in Maryland and Virginia have helped to cut nitrogen loads from sewage treatment plants. But the Maryland Department of the Environment’s water division has lost more than 10 percent of its staff over the last decade, which means fewer resources for the kind of monitoring and enforcement we need to stay on track and meet Chesapeake Bay clean-up goals. We need to reverse that decline and make sure the state has the expert staff it needs by collecting a modest fee from the largest nitrogen and phosphorus dischargers in the watershed.”

EIP Attorney Tarah Heinzen said: “Nutrient and sediment pollution has caused a severe decline in the water quality and fisheries of the estuary. Restoration of the Chesapeake Bay is the nation’s most ambitious regional water pollution clean-up plan ever. The early progress is encouraging but we need to do more if we want to stay on track. Public sewage systems and industrial plants contribute a fifth of the nitrogen pollution entering the Bay, and a fourth of the phosphorus, so addressing illegal discharges and poor data reporting at these plants is critical.”

Other key findings in the EIP report include the following:

* Violations. Permit limits and wasteload allocations mean little if dischargers do not meet them. Unfortunately, violations of permit limits for nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment are common throughout the Bay states, even for significant dischargers. For example, 12 percent of the significant industrial and municipal dischargers violated nitrogen permit limits for at least a quarter of 2011. These estimates may understate the noncompliance rate, however, because the number of facilities that fail to even report discharge data is unacceptably high and appears to be rising. For example, 14 percent of dischargers failed to report nitrogen data for at least a quarter of 2011, compared to 11 percent in 2009.

* Incomplete permitting. Among the 334 significant dischargers with available data considered in EIP’s loadings analysis, the organization could not identify enforceable numeric nitrogen limits for 64 polluters: 45 in Pennsylvania, 10 in New York, and nine in Maryland. These 64 facilities discharged over 7.6 million pounds of nitrogen in 2011, accounting for more than 15 percent of the significant facility load.

Heinzen said: “No one said this is going to be easy, but there are common-sense steps the Bay states should take to reduce industrial and municipal pollution, such as including enforceable pollution limits in every discharge permit and taking strong enforcement actions that deter illegal pollution.”

TO DOWNLOAD THE FULL EIP CHESAPEAKE BAY REPORT GO TO: http://environmentalintegrity.org/news_reports/12_06_2012.php.

REPORT METHODOLOGY

The Environmental Integrity Project examined public data obtained from EPA and states to evaluate progress in meeting TMDL goals by the largest municipal and industrial sources of nutrients in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, focusing on nitrogen discharges. Using this data, which EIP obtained directly from state agencies or through EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) database, EIP compared loadings between 2010 and 2011; identified permits that lack numeric limits for TMDL pollutants; assessed rates of violations and failures to report among the most significant dischargers; and estimated the pollution attributable to illegal discharges. EIP also reviewed the Bay states’ performance in inspecting dischargers, assessing penalties, and maintaining current permits.

About EIP

The Environmental Integrity Project is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization established in March of 2002 by former EPA enforcement attorneys to advocate for effective enforcement of environmental laws. EIP has three goals: 1) to provide objective analyses of how the failure to enforce or implement environmental laws increases pollution and affects public health; 2) to hold federal and state agencies, as well as individual corporations, accountable for failing to enforce or comply with environmental laws; and 3) to help local communities obtain the protection of environmental laws. For more information, visit http://www.environmentalintegrity.org.

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