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Federal Government is Failing to Meet Bay Cleanup Promises

Capitol building WHITE HOUSE PICTUREThe federal government is falling short of its promises to clean up the Chesapeake Bay by reducing farm and urban runoff pollution, as well as air pollution, according to a new Chesapeake Bay Foundation analysis.

"Restoring local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay will only be achieved when all the partners do their fair share," said Dr. Beth McGee, CBF Senior Water Quality Scientist. "The federal government must step up its oversight and clearly define the actions it will take over the next two years to ensure progress.”

In the area of agricultural pollution, the federal government is not providing enough financial and technical support to encourage farmers to plant strips of trees along streams to filter the runoff of fertilizer and sediment.  In 2012, farmers in the Bay region states planted only 2,600 acres of these forest buffers, less than 20 percent of the 14,200 acres per year needed to meet targets in a federal and state Bay cleanup plan called the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.

One major stumbling block is Congressional gridlock, which has prevented lawmakers from approving an extension of the 2008 Farm Bill that provides funding for many farm pollution-management practices.

In the area of air pollution, the federal government in 2010 committed to reducing nitrogen pollution from the air by an estimated three million pounds. But the air pollution regulations that would have achieved those reductions have been tied up in court for years. And the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not used its authority under the federal Clean Water Act as an additional tool to cut these emissions, according to CBF’s analysis of the federal government's efforts to meet Bay cleanup milestones.

Suburban and urban runoff is also a major problem.   State permits -– approved by EPA -- that require large counties and cities to control pollution running off of streets, parking lots, roofs and other developed surfaces fail to set deadlines and regular benchmarks for reducing pollution, according to the CBF analysis. These permits also fail to promote the best pollution control practices, and do not require adequate monitoring. 

For example, in Maryland, a judge recently concluded that a runoff control permit for Montgomery County approved by the state and federal governments "lacks ascertainable metrics for meeting water quality standards." The judge insisted that "specific requirements for meeting water quality standards must be stated in the permit."

In 2009, President Obama issued an Executive Order that required the federal government to develop and implement two-year milestones to support state pollution reduction efforts in the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.

"While the Clean Water Blueprint is successfully reducing pollution from some sources, federal efforts in key areas are falling short," said Dr. McGee. "Of even more concern is that important actions to achieve those commitments have not been included in the next two-year milestones. One of the things that distinguishes current efforts from past efforts that fell far short of the mark are these clear and transparent short-term commitments."

To read more about CBF’s analysis of the federal governments efforts, click here.

By Tom Pelton

Chesapeake Bay Foundation

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