Sun Editorial Condemns Pennsylvania’s Lack of Action on Bay TMDL

A June 15, 2015, Baltimore Sun editorial condemned Pennsylvania’s lack of action in meeting its water quality reduction goals under the federally mandated Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and urged increasing the awareness of Pennsylvania’s citizenry on the benefits they receive from clean water.  As previously reported on Conduit Street, Pennsylvania will be a primary (but not the only) reason the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is projected Bay watershed states to miss their 2017 TMDL goals.  From the editorial:

Maryland and Virginia have made significant progress in [Chesapeake Bay restoration], but one state trails particularly badly — Pennsylvania.

The latest numbers produced by the [EPA] tell the story in a nutshell. Under an EPA-enforced regional compact, six states and the District of Columbia are aiming to reduce the amount of one pollutant in particular, nitrogen, by 60 percent based on 2009 levels by the year 2017. At the current rate, the agency estimates, the watershed will achieve a bit less than half of that goal.

Pennsylvania is single handedly responsible for 79 percent of the shortfall, according to the EPA model. Seventy-nine percent! The notion that the current effort to meet the 2017 target could possibly be accomplished any time near the deadline now seems laughable.

While noting the various permit and fiscal sanctions EPA could impose on Pennsylvania, the editorial suggested a more effective approach would be to educate Pennsylvania’s citizens on the importance of water quality.  The editorial also cautioned that other Bay states should not neglect their own water quality efforts:

What might prove more effective would be to demonstrate to Pennsylvania residents the need to clean the Susquehanna watershed for their own benefit, let alone the benefit of those of us downstream. Just last month, a smallmouth bass with a cancerous tumor in its jaw was pulled out of the Susquehanna. The incident received national attention — and spotlighted the declining fishery and the underlying pollution that is responsible for it.

What Pennsylvania’s shortcomings in reducing nitrogen (and sediment) should not do is cause Maryland or Virginia to curb pollution reductions of their own. It might be tempting to resent a neighbor who seems to be “getting away” with lax environmental enforcement, but that’s a self-destructive line of thinking — just as the presence of air pollution from out-of-state power plants wafting into Maryland is no reason to abandon state standards on emissions. The goal must be to get Pennsylvania back on track in reducing pollution, not to scrap a still-promising regional approach to cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.