EPA Threatens to Crack Down on Northern Neighbor

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently signaled they are to step up enforcement efforts to control Pennsylvania’s water pollution. 

Long-term advocates for a cleaner Chesapeake Bay may find reason to rejoice as the EPA puts Pennsylvania on notice for water pollution. After the EPA reviewed Pennsylvania’s updated plan to address pollution reduction goals for the Chesapeake Bay watershed, it found that the plan falls short of those goals largely due to the lack of resources provided by the state. Approximately 25,000 miles of streams in the state – more than the Earth’s circumference – are considered unsuitable for fishing, recreation, or other uses.

Pennsylvania’s draft amended Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) meets 70 percent of its nitrogen reduction target – 9.7 million pounds short, the EPA evaluation found.  Much of this is attributed to uncontrolled manure runoff into streams, although there are other contributing pollution sources.

According to the press release: 

“Pennsylvania has made noteworthy progress in recent years and key partnerships are in place,” said EPA Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Adam Ortiz. “State agencies, counties, farmers, partners and nonprofits are on board and have put in a tremendous effort. What’s missing are improved manure control policies and dependable state funding for agriculture cost-share programs for farmers. These are measures other states have had for a long time.”

“Enhanced inspections and enforcement are a last resort, but that is where we are. Governor Wolf and legislative leaders have key proposals on the table in Harrisburg that would make a big difference,” said Ortiz, “We may live in different states in this region, but the rivers are shared by all, and each needs to do their part.”

Pennsylvania will now have 90 days to submit an improved final plan that meets its targets.  Starting this week, EPA will be taking stronger actions statewide to promote clean-up progress, such as increased agriculture and municipal stormwater inspections, increased permit oversight, heightened enforcement actions, and redirection of certain federal funds to ensure they are spent more efficiently in Pennsylvania.


In 2014 the seven territories that comprise the Chesapeake Bay Watershed (Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, and West Virginia) signed the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement. This agreement organized a Mid-Atlantic effort to reduce pollution in the bay and restore its various rivers and tributaries. Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland make up the primary stakeholders in the accord, as most of the watershed can be found within their borders.

Since the adoption of the agreement in 2014, most states have made significant progress in achieving their restoration and pollution reduction targets. In their 2020 State of the Bay, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation CBF’s cited several times how pollution from the Susquehanna River was damaging the watershed,

…, efforts to reduce pollution from agriculture and urban and suburban runoff must accelerate—especially in Pennsylvania, which remains far off track largely due to a lack of resources to help farmers implement conservation practices.”

Maryland has the most to gain from progress in cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. The bay represents a significant driver of economic growth and a source of cultural identity. Hopefully, the EPA’s warning to Pennsylvania and 90-day timeline will be enough to push our northern neighbor in a more environmentally friendly direction without any major federal intervention.

Read the EPA’s press release. 

Read more about the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement. 

Read the CBF’s 2020 State of the Bay.