Three observations about Virginia's most recent proposed plan to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, which was submitted by the Commonwealth yesterday to EPA:
1) Virginia clearly made progress since its earlier draft plan, which was submitted to EPA in September. The new plan proposes to cut more pollution from sewage treatment plants and urban stormwater systems.
2) The Commonwealth continues to miss the mark on pollution reductions from farms.
3) And, oddly, Virginia continues to mischaracterize the Bay cleanup as an unfunded federal mandate. This is not just a federal issue. The Commonwealth’s own constitution requires the state government to ensure clean water for its citizens. And a recent poll found a vast majority of Virginia voters believe that providing clean water is an important role of state government.
Yesterday, Virginia submitted its revised proposal (called the Virginia "Watershed Implementation Plan") to reduce pollution in the Bay. All the Bay area states must submit these plans to meet the federal government’s requirement to clean up the estuary through a new pollution “diet” ( known as the Chesapeake Bay “Total Maximum Daily Load”).
The Commonwealth submitted an earlier draft plan back in September, but it fell far short of what was needed to restore water quality (as did the plans of all Bay area states, save Maryland and the District of Columbia).
Virginia’s revised proposal is clearly stronger. For example, the new plan commits Virginia to reducing an additional up to six million pounds of nitrogen pollution through improvements to wastewater treatment plants. It also obligates the Commonwealth to do more to reduce stormwater runoff pollution from urban streets and parking lots.
The state’s plans for farms includes promising ideas for reducing polluted runoff. But it continues to lack commitments that such ideas will be put into action, according to an analysis that the Chesapeake Bay Foundation performed on the Virginia proposal.
Virginia calls for farms to implement “resource management plans” to reduce pollution, but does not mandate what those plans should include and requires them only if adequate funding is available.
We’ve seen cleanup plans for the Bay before, and they have proved meaningless when they do not include guarantees.
Because Virginia has not provided assurances of pollution reductions from the agricultural sector, it is likely that EPA will have no choice but to impose federal actions and increased oversight to comply with the federal Clean Water Act.
Virginia still has another month (until December 31) to strengthen its plans and take control of its own fate before EPA acts by issuing the final federal pollution limits for the Bay.
A cleanup plan without guarantees is just more paper for the recycling bin.
By Tom Pelton
Chesapeake Bay Foundation