Bay Journal

Bill would take away EPA’s oversight on Bay cleanup, give it to states

Legislators want to abolish deadlines, let states decide how much they are willing to do

  • By Karl Blankenship on April 10, 2012
Critics of the proposed bill stressed that the federal government has a key role to play in the restoration of local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay.  (Dave Harp)

A bipartisan team of House members has revived legislation that would sharply curb the EPA's implementation of its "pollution diet" to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-VA, and Rep. Tim Holden, D-PA, in March introduced a bill that would remove most of the EPA's authority over nutrient and sediment reduction efforts, while giving states and the U.S. Department of Agriculture more clout.

Goodlatte, who serves as vice-chair of the House Agriculture Committee, said the EPA's cleanup plan "limits economic growth and unfairly overregulates our local economies."

The bill is in response to the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load established by the EPA in December 2010. Most often referred to by its initials, TMDL, or its nickname, the pollution diet, it set the maximum amount of nutrients and sediments that can enter the Bay from each river and state annually.

The EPA also set a cleanup deadline of 2025, and required states to develop plans with enforceable strategies showing how nutrient and sediment reduction goals would be attained, with specific accomplishments to be achieved in two-year increments.

Failure to write adequate plans or achieve targets can result in penalties from the EPA. The agency, for instance, recently withheld more than $300,000 in grant money from New York for being months late in delivering a draft of its latest cleanup plan.

The TMDL has triggered a backlash from agricultural trade organizations, developers and many city leaders who fear they would face potentially costly new rules and regulations in order to achieve the cleanup goals. A coalition, made up mostly of agribusiness interests and led by the American Farm Bureau Federation, has challenged the TMDL in court.

Both Goodlatte and Holden have been hostile toward the EPA's role in overseeing Bay restoration during congressional hearings on the issue.

A resolution sponsored by Goodlatte last year that would have blocked the EPA from implementing the TMDL was approved by the House, but the budget bill to which it was attached was never acted upon by the Senate.

The new bill from Goodlatte and Holden would give states, not the EPA, authority to set nutrient and sediment limits for the Bay. States would also write and implement their cleanup plans free of EPA oversight, unless they explicitly asked for such review, and the states would ultimately be responsible for determining when they've completed the Bay cleanup. Although the bill calls for states to make "iterative progress" in achieving nutrient and sediment reduction goals, it does not set a cleanup deadline.

The bill would also create a new Independent Evaluation and Technical Advisory Committee, whose members would be appointed by the EPA administrator and the U.S. agriculture secretary. The members would oversee how Bay restoration efforts are tracked and assessed and evaluate the EPA's Bay-related computer modeling. The models have drawn criticism, especially from agricultural groups. The committee would also determine whether "the achievability and practicability of water quality goals are being considered" in the cleanup program.

The bill would create another committee to streamline nutrient trading among states in the watershed.

Under the bill, farmers would be deemed to be in compliance with any water quality requirements if they implemented what are considered to be appropriate conservation efforts to comply with state and federal goals.

"The people who call the Bay watershed home are the ones who are the most concerned about protecting and restoring the Chesapeake Bay," Goodlatte said. "Unfortunately, too often these hardworking individuals are cast as villains and placed in a position where restoring the Bay is pitted against the economic livelihoods of their communities. We can restore the Bay while also maintaining the economic livelihood of their communities."

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation immediately criticized the bill. The foundation said the bill would derail new cleanup efforts that were implemented after voluntary actions over the past quarter century achieved only modest nutrient and sediment reductions.

"Congressman Goodlatte's bill would undermine the pollution limits currently in place, derail cleanup efforts, and undercut the federal government's role in making sure that all Americans have access to clean, swimmable, fishable waters," said Doug Siglin, CBF's federal affairs director. "The federal government has a key role to play in the restoration of local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay, and we urge all members of Congress to steer well clear of this damaging legislation."

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About Karl Blankenship

Karl Blankenship is editor of the Bay Journal and Executive Director of Chesapeake Media Service. He has served as editor of the Bay Journal since its inception in 1991. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Read more articles by Karl Blankenship

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