EPA Establishes Landmark Chesapeake Bay 'Pollution Diet'

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released its new "pollution diet" to help clean up Chesapeake Bay and the region's streams, creeks and rivers.

by James Laughlin, Managing Editor

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released its new "pollution diet" to help clean up Chesapeake Bay and the region's streams, creeks and rivers. The pollution diet, formally known as the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), is designed to reduce the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment from Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.

EPA has been working with states and other jurisdictions in the Chesapeake region over the past few months to address "deficiencies" found in draft plans they submitted in September. The pollution diet is based primarily on those plans, which has been EPA's goal from the outset.

In their updated jurisdictional plans, Virginia, New York and Delaware committed to more stringent nitrogen and phosphorus limits at wastewater treatment plants, including on the James River in Virginia. The District of Columbia agreed to implement a progressive stormwater permit to reduce pollution, and Pennsylvania promised to dramatically increase enforcement and compliance of state requirements for agriculture.

In addition, EPA will provide enhanced oversight of Pennsylvania agriculture, Virginia and West Virginia urban stormwater, and Pennsylvania and West Virginia wastewater. If the jurisdictions don't make sufficient progress, EPA may impose additional controls on permitted sources of pollution, such as wastewater treatment plants.

EPA will also regularly oversee each of the jurisdictions' programs to make sure they implement the pollution control plans, remain on schedule for meeting water quality goals and achieve their two-year milestones. This oversight will include program review, objecting to permits and targeting compliance and enforcement actions as necessary to meet water quality goals.

The pollution diet calls for a 25 percent reduction in nitrogen, 24 percent reduction in phosphorus and 20 percent reduction in sediment. The TMDL - which sets Bay watershed limits of 185.9 million pounds of nitrogen, 12.5 million pounds of phosphorus and 6.45 billion pounds of sediment per year - is designed to ensure that all pollution control measures to fully restore the Bay and its tidal rivers are in place by 2025, with at least 60 percent of the actions completed by 2017.

EPA has also committed to reducing air deposition of nitrogen to the tidal waters of the Chesapeake Bay from 17.9 to 15.7 million pounds per year. The reductions will be achieved through implementation of federal air regulations during the coming years.

Despite all of the extensive restoration efforts during the last 25 years, the TMDL was prompted by insufficient progress in restoring the Bay. The TMDL is required under federal law and responds to consent decrees in Virginia and D.C. dating back to the late 1990s. The TMDL, as well as evaluations of the state plans and EPA backstops and contingencies can be found at www.epa.gov/chesapeakebaytmdl.

On a related note, the federal government has always considered itself exempt from paying stormwater drainage fees to local governments. President Obama has signed a bill to change that. The new law holds the federal government responsible for paying local fees, including those assessed by the District of Columbia's Department of the Environment. Given the amount of federal property in the DC area, this should give a nice boost to the District's stormwater control program.

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