The third Bay Journal article (2018-10-17) in a special series on the Chesapeake Bay focused on the challenge of Pennsylvania, which is lagging far behind other Bay watershed states in meetings its Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) goals. Pennsylvania’s progress must be addressed as the Bay TMDL enters its third and final phase. Otherwise, there is little chance of meeting the Bay TMDL’s final 2025 pollution reduction goals as Pennsylvania accounts for about half of the region’s remaining nitrogen shortfall and is the only Bay state to miss is phosphorus and sediment goals. From the article:
“Pennsylvania is going to be the key,” said Nick DiPasquale, the recently retired director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Bay Program Office. “They are going to need a lot of help.” …
Pennsylvania produces more runoff from agriculture and stormwater than any other state in the Bay watershed. About 59 percent of its nitrogen load to the Bay comes from the runoff generated by 33,000 farms, according to Bay Program figures. Another 14 percent comes from runoff that originates on developed land, often from small communities sprinkled throughout the landscape. The amount of nitrogen from both of those sectors has increased in the state since the TMDL went into effect in 2010.
While the article noted that Pennsylvania has made some nitrogen reductions, primarily from wastewater treatment plant upgrades, the state has not effectively addressed its large agricultural or stormwater sectors. Pennsylvania faces several challenges, including the large amount of small farms within the state complicating outreach efforts and its pollution contributions to the Susquehanna River/Conowingo Dam.
The article discussed the enforcement authority held by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), including “backstops” that can cut federal funding or withhold needed permits, and cited sources who believe Pennsylvania got so far off track because EPA did not use its enforcement tools earlier in the process. EPA has twice withheld grant funding to Pennsylvania, which DiPasquale stated just further hampers the state from tackling its goals. EPA’s enforcement authority is also much more limited against the agricultural sector, which generates a significant amount of Pennsylvania’s pollution.
The article stated that Pennsylvania is taking some actions to help correct the situation, including: (1) consideration of a large water user fee to help fund water quality improvements; and (2) development of local plans, with input from farmers, to more clearly lay out expectations and goals.
If Pennsylvania does not make adequate process in meeting its TMDL goals, other states or stakeholders could use the courts to force action. However, the article noted that litigation between Bay states could potentially fracture the TMDL coalition. However, it remains an option, especially if EPA fails to put more pressure on Pennsylvania. Such pressure could include both punitive and affirmative elements.
While Pennsylvania is the most behind in meeting its TMDL requirements, the article noted that other states, including Maryland which has missed its nitrogen goals, are lagging in one form or another. How the EPA, the Bay states, and other stakeholders will respond to these challenges could ultimately determine the success or failure of the Bay TMDL over the long term.