The EPA has rejected a 2003 request by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to take a series of regulatory actions aimed at controlling nutrient pollution to the Bay.
After 18 months of review, the EPA in June told the environmental group that current efforts to control pollution, including a permit program for wastewater treatment plants announced in December, would achieve faster results.
“EPA has determined that existing regulations, coupled with the collaborative partnership outlined in the Chesapeake 2000 agreement, will get us results faster than developing new federal rules,” said Benjamin Grumbles, EPA’s assistant administrator for water.
In a petition filed with the EPA in December 2003, the CBF had asked the agency to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to take a series of actions aimed at forcing nutrient reductions from treatment plants and industries that discharge into waterways.
Grumbles said that the CBF’s requests would have required new rules that would have taken years to complete. He said a permitting strategy agreed upon by the EPA and the states will require enforceable nutrient limits for discharges, resulting in more than an 18.5 million pound reduction in the amount of nitrogen reaching the Bay each year.
States within the watershed are expected to begin incorporating those limits in permits later this year.
But the EPA did agree to revoke its waiver for review of wastewater permits in the watershed, as the CBF had requested. That allows the agency to ensure that permits have adequate limits.
In addition, the agency said it would reassess whether Total Maximum Daily Loads would be needed in the watershed in 2007 if adequate nutrient limits are not set in permits.
TMDLs are enforceable pollution budgets that are required for waterways that fail to meet their water quality standards, and the foundation had requested that a TMDL be developed for the Bay in its petition.
The EPA has previously indicated that it would not require a TMDL for the Bay before 2011—when it would be required under a court agreement—as long as progress was made in cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.
CBF President Will Baker said the organization was satisfied with the EPA’s response, but would closely watch permits to see if the agency and the states fulfill their promises.
“We’re going to monitor this as it unfolds,” he said. “If the permit limits aren’t set appropriately or enforced, CBF will continue to use the courts to enforce the law.”
The Bay Program had promised in its Chesapeake 2000 agreement to establish new water quality standards for the Bay and develop river specific cleanup plans, called tributary strategies, to achieve those standards.
Maryland and Virginia are both in the final stages of adopting new water quality standards. Under the agreement between the EPA and the states, nitrogen limits that meet tributary strategy goals will be required in discharge permits for facilities throughout the watershed.