That’s the key word in the historic 27-page settlement agreement that the federal government signed last night to end a lawsuit by Chesapeake Bay Foundation and our allies against EPA for its failure to clean up the nation’s largest estuary.
The agreement was announced this morning by CBF President Will Baker (pictured at left) and Robert Perciasepe, EPA’s Deputy Administrator (right) during a press conference at CBF headquarters in Annapolis.
The Obama Administration tomorrow is scheduled to release a final report laying out its new plans to reduce pollution into the Bay. This plan will be similar in some ways to the settlement agreement announced today. This similarity is no coincidence. CBF’s lawsuit in January 2009 spurred the new administration into make saving the Bay a top priority. And the litigation helped to convince President Obama to issue the first-ever executive order on the Bay last May 12, demanding stronger federal action to clean up the Chesapeake.
But the importance of this litigation – dismissed by some as a public relations stunt – goes beyond the fact that the lawsuit helped to produce a new federal cleanup plan. After all, the federal government has announced Bay cleanup plans in the past – in 1983, 1987, and in 2000. But these promises were not kept. Not that we should doubt the sincerity of the Obama Administration. But the fact is that administrations change, and the plans of one President can be tossed in the trash by the next.
The settlement of the lawsuit is different in that it is legally binding on EPA, and will remain legally binding in the next administration. So no matter who the next President is, his or her EPA must follow a specific series of steps to reduce pollution into the Bay.
EPA’s representative offered praise for the settlement agreement during a press conference at CBF headquarters in Annapolis this morning.
“This is indeed a momentous occasion for us,” said Perciasepe, an EPA deputy administrator who formerly served as Maryland Secretary of the Environment. “We will be living up to these commitments, and we are looking forward to making the kind of progress that really needs to be made on the Chesapeake Bay.”
This settlement agreement is very specific in what it demands of EPA.
• By November 2012, EPA must finalize new regulations to reduce stormwater runoff, the only source of pollution in the Bay that continues to grow.
• By June 2014, EPA must propose new regulations to control agricultural runoff from large livestock facilities called Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.
• EPA must complete the creation of strict pollution reduction plans – called a Total Maximum Daily Load – for the Bay region states by December 31 of this year.
• The Bay states must finalize steps to implement these plans by November of 2011.
• If states if they fail to comply – either by failing to develop plans on time, or by failing to keep their pollution reduction commitments – EPA will impose consequences, such as the withholding of federal funds or the denial of permits for construction.
The fact that these requirements are in a settlement agreement – and not just a plan – means that performance by EPA is not an optional matter.
“The bottom line is that this is a legally binding agreement that requires mandatory – not voluntary – pollution reductions,” said Jon Mueller, CBF’s Vice President for Litigation (pictured at left). “And if there is failure, we have preserved the right to go back to court to enforce the terms of the agreement.”
The era of broken Bay promises must now end.
"This agreement is a game-changer," said Will Baker, president of CBF.To watch a video of the news conference, click here.
By Tom Pelton
Chesapeake Bay Foundation