Environmental groups sue EPA over TMDLs in Maryland

Environmental groups filed suit against the EPA in November for failing to force Maryland to write plans, due 18 years ago, to bring its waterways into compliance with clean water standards.

The suit charges that Maryland has not identified all sections of its waterways that do not meet water quality standards nor developed plans to limit the amount of pollution that could enter those waterways and still meet the standards.

Those plans, known as Total Maximum Daily Loads, were required since the original 1972 Clean Water Act, but their development was widely ignored throughout the nation until environmental groups began suing the EPA for failing to enforce the act.

TMDLs are estimates of the maximum amount of pollution that a body of water can receive and still meet water quality standards. By law, they were to be developed for all impaired water bodies by 1979. If states failed to do so, the EPA was supposed to withhold money from the offenders and write the TMDLs itself.

Maryland is not alone. In recent years, environmental groups have contended that the requirement has gone largely ignored, sparking roughly two dozen suits over TMDLs across the nation. A similar suit over the TMDLs in Pennsylvania was settled earlier this year. After being sued, the EPA signed an agreement with Pennsylva-nia committing the state to step up water monitoring efforts and to write about 600 TMDLs over the next decade.

The EPA also agreed to help fund some of the work. The groups filing the Maryland suit, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Sierra Club and the American Littoral Society, also say that the vast majority of the state's waters have not been adequately monitored to determine whether they meet water quality standards.

"Few of Maryland's waterways are adequately monitored, and of those that are, too few are clean," said Guy Guzzone, who directs the Sierra Club's Maryland Office. "Marylanders deserve a full picture of our water quality so that steps can be taken to reverse years of poor enforcement."

"The status quo is totally unacceptable," said Thomas Grasso, executive director of CBF's Maryland office. "Nutrient pollution causes terrible problems for the Bay. Pfiesteria, for example, is one symptom. The EPA must use every tool at its disposal to significantly reduce nutrient pollution and to reduce the threat of pfiesteria in the Bay."

Earlier this year, Maryland officials said they needed to write about 300 TMDLs for polluted waterways it had identified, and said it would take years to finish the job.

Proponents see TMDLs as a way to more holistically approach watershed pollution problems because it forces managers to look at all pollution sources - and their cumulative effects on resources- instead of individual problems. At the same time, TMDLs can be complex, expensive and labor intensive to develop. Also, if the source of water quality problems is polluted runoff - the major problem for most waterways - there is often no legal mechanism to implement a TMDL.

Still, the EPA in recent years has increasingly embraced TMDLs as a tool to promote watershed planning, and has been developing new guidelines for states writing TMDLs, replacing earlier, vague instructions. At this year's Chesapeake Executive Council, EPA Administrator Carol Browner said, "community-based watershed management tools, such as Total Maximum Daily Loads, must be a critical and central part of our overall effort to clean up the Bay."

But the timetable the EPA has proposed to give states to develop the plans-eight to 13 years - is considered too generous by many environmental groups, though it is in line with the time granted in recent court agreements.

For more information about the TMDL issue, see "Suits seek cleanup plans for waterways," in the July-August 1997 Bay Journal.

Virginia will allow counties to regulate hog farms

Virginia Attorney General Richard Cullen has given a limited green light to counties wishing to regulate industrial hog farms. Counties can limit the number of hogs per acre through zoning restrictions that "bear a relationship to the health, safety and general welfare" of citizens, Cullen said in an opinion requested by Del. Mitchell Van Yahres, D-Charlottesville.

Van Yahres, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, requested the opinion in a July 16 letter as a subcommittee began a study on industrial hog farm regulations. Since then, Bruns-wick and Buckingham counties have adopted zoning ordinances to regulate hog farming.

The controversial farms house hundreds of hogs in large barns, storing animal waste in large lagoons until it can be spread on fields as fertilizer.

Opponents of the farms say they are environmental threats that destroy the value of surrounding property. Support-ers have maintained that they are already sufficiently regulated under state law.

Cullen's opinion apparently does not limit the actions taken by Buckingham and Brunswick, Van Yahres said. Buckingham County's zoning ordinance, which took effect at the end of October, has detailed regulations dictating where industrial farms can be placed and, to a lesser extent, how they are to be run.

Van Yahres said an agriculture subcommittee will meet in December to consider legislation that could limit some large hog farm operations. The bills include regulations on lagoons for hog waste.

Brunswick County's recent tightening of zoning restrictions on hog operations may be headed for a court challenge. Carroll Foods, one of Virginia's larger industrial farm operations that contracts with hog farmers, appears likely to take county officials to court, Van Yahres said.

Colonial Pipeline to pay $4 million for 1993 oil spill

Colonial Pipeline Co. has agreed to pay a $1.5 million fine, spend up to $2.5 million for new outdoor public recreation facilities and to restore natural resources in and around Sugarland Run and the Potomac River, repairing damage from a massive 1993 oil spill from the company's pipeline in Reston, VA.

The proposed settlement was lodged on Oct. 21 by the Justice Department in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, on behalf of the EPA, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

The spill, which occurred in March 1993, released about 407,000 gallons of diesel fuel into Sugarland Run. About 48 square miles of surface water, shorelines, islands and wetlands were contaminated, including the entire length of Sugarland Run and part of the Potomac. Under the proposed settlement, Co-lonial will pay a $1.5 million civil penalty, to be split evenly between the federal government and Virginia, and reimburse the federal government, Virginia and the District of Columbia for the costs of assessing damages to natural resources. Also, Colonial will pay $254,314 to help fund the construction of the fish passage over Little Falls Dam on the Potomac. The proposed settlement also requires Colonial to restore or rehabilitate natural resources that were damaged by the spill, and pay the monitoring and oversight costs of these projects.

USDA opens compost facility

A new compost research facility at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Beltsville Agriculture Research Center in Maryland will help the agency save the environment and money.

"The scientists will develop and test new technologies for cooperative recycling ways to reduce urban landfill problems while turning excess nutrients and other potential pollutants into valuable products such as organic fertilizer for farms and gardens," Deputy Agriculture Secretary Richard Romin-ger said at a dedication ceremony.

He said the facility will save $13,000 a year in reduced landfill fees, while converting leftover farm, urban and industrial materials into fertilizer, potting mixes and mulch for use at the Beltsville center, part of the USDA's Agricultural Research Service.

"Composting converts nitrogen and other nutrients into stable forms that are less likely to enter waterways," Rominger said. "The facility will also help us comply with Maryland's voluntary nutrient management program, designed to keep nitrogen and phosphorus out of the Chesapeake Bay. The project also has national implications for developing similar recycling cooperation between farms and towns."

Rayon plant smokestack razed

A 30-story smokestack that towered over the Avtex Fibers plant at Front Royal, VA, was demolished Nov. 7, reduced to a pile of red-brick rubble by a dynamite blast.

The 365-foot tower was a symbol of one of Virginia's worst environmental problems. The 440-acre Avtex property on the south fork of the Shenandoah River is a federal Superfund cleanup site because of toxins left by rayon manufacturing from the 1930s to 1989.

The demolition raised a minimum amount of dust to prevent the release of toxins into the surrounding air. "It was totally successful," said Michael Towle, on-scene coordinator for the EPA, which is overseeing decontamination of the property.

Air monitors on the perimeter of the site confirmed that dust from the debris was contained, Towle said. Among the toxins on the site are asbestos, PCBs, mercury, lead, carbon disulfide and various acids.

The EPA has spent $27 million since the early 1980s cleaning up the site.

Another $33 million will be spent over the next two years to remove the most contaminated buildings, and work to clean the rest of the site will stretch well into the next century.