Top Issues of 2021 Session: Chesapeake Bay Cleanup

With the 2021 Legislative Session rapidly approaching, MACo is profiling some major issues that stand to gather attention in the General Assembly’s work. Here, we preview the state of the Chesapeake Bay.

Protecting the Chesapeake Bay is almost always at the forefront of environmental policy agendas going into the General Assembly Session, and 2021 will likely be no different. Efforts to restore and preserve the Bay are shaped by a variety of factors, including federal leadership and available resources. While the State is on track to achieve its 2025 outlined pollution reduction goals, there are still questions surrounding the impacts of climate change, increased development, and more on pollution levels in the Bay.

The state of the Bay is discussed by the Department of Legislative Services in its annual compilation of Issue Papers:

In its July 2018 midpoint assessment, EPA concluded that the bay jurisdictions exceeded the 60% goal for reducing phosphorus and sediment but did not achieve the goal for reducing nitrogen. In order to achieve the necessary reductions by calendar 2025, the bay jurisdictions must reduce an additional 48.4 million pounds of nitrogen, which is more than twice the reductions achieved by the bay jurisdictions between calendar 2009 and 2017. Pennsylvania and Maryland are responsible for the majority of the remaining nitrogen reductions (70.6% and 17.4%, respectively). Pennsylvania is responsible for reducing an additional 34.1 million pounds of nitrogen, or 6.3 times its reductions between calendar 2009 and 2017, and Maryland is responsible
for reducing an additional 8.4 million pounds of nitrogen, or 2.5 times its reductions between calendar 2009 and 2017.

Maryland’s Phase III WIP anticipates that the State will achieve (and possibly exceed) statewide nutrient and sediment pollution reduction goals by calendar 2025. Maryland’s strategy relies on accelerated pollution load reductions from both the wastewater (42% of Maryland’s reductions) and agricultural (52% of Maryland’s reductions) sectors to achieve a majority of the necessary reductions.

According to reports, Maryland is doing fairly well in nutrient reduction in wastewater and combined sewer outflow. In fact roughly two thirds of reductions over the last several decades have come from these sources. Now the focus is likely to shift to more nonpoint sources like agriculture, stormwater, and septics to achieve a similar rate of reduction needed to reach 2025 goals. According to the latest bay blueprint, the State is not achieving its potential in urban and suburban runoff which will likely put more of a focus this Session on finding new ways to achieve necessary reductions in these areas. As development grows and storm frequency and strength varies, it becomes more challenging to make necessary progress in these areas.

One tool Maryland uses that will be worked on this Session is the Clean Water Commerce Act, which allows the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to purchase pollution reductions from the private sector using money from the Bay Restoration Fund (BRF). The current version sunsets in June of 2021, and there is a workgroup looking at lengthening the Act’s applicability. The Chesapeake Bay Commission is asking the General Assembly to extend the Act to 2030, increase funding to $20 million annually, and also focus on the need for agriculture nitrogen reductions while not letting gains in other areas slip.

Maryland is not the only actor in Bay cleanup efforts. Five other states in the region and the District of Columbia are responsible for achieving outlined reductions by 2025 based on the 2010 Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the federal Clean Water Act (CWA). After all seven Bay jurisdictions released their Phase III Watershed Implementation Plans (WIP), it was clear that several were not on track to achieve the required reductions. In September, several lawsuits were filed against EPA for failing to require that Pennsylvania and New York implement plans to reach 2025 goals. Both lawsuits sit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, and negotiations may take place after a change in federal administration.

Funding availability is crucial to achieving necessary reductions. The Chesapeake Bay Program drives spending on Bay restoration efforts, and was headed for drastic budget cuts totaling upwards of $75 million until last week when congress switched course and passed an omnibus spending bill that would provide the Program with an increase of $2.5 million.

More background on the state of the Bay, the backstories that motivate action, and the topic being discussed may be found in previous Conduit Street coverage, and in the DLS Issue Paper:

EPA Facing Multiple Lawsuits Over Failure to Enforce Chesapeake Bay Cleanup

Members of Congress Urge States to Continue Protecting the Chesapeake Bay

DLS Issue Papers: The Status of Chesapeake Bay Restoration

Helpful 2021 Session Links:

Maryland General Assembly website | 2021 Dates of Interest | Issue Papers
Re-opening procedures: Senate | House of Delegates | House Committees
Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts on MACo’s Legislative Tracking Database
MACo’s 2021 Priorities  |  MACo’s 2020 Wrap-Up