A conservation group filed a federal lawsuit Jan. 5 to force the EPA to clean up the Bay, citing 25 years of failure to restore the nation's largest estuary.

The lawsuit by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation asserts that the EPA's failure to meet its obligations "has led to the continued degradation of water quality in the Chesapeake Bay," harming natural resources and the residents who depend on them.

"We have asked that EPA accept its responsibility under the Clean Water Act," said CBF President Will Baker. "Despite EPA's assertions to the contrary, CBF believes that after 25 years of failed policies, the only way to ensure that EPA does its job is to have a court order requiring it."

The EPA responded that it is committed to fighting pollution, and that a lawsuit could get in the way.

"We've had several good discussions with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation on ways to accelerate and sustain progress recently," said Benjamin Grumbles, EPA assistant administrator for water. "And we hope the lawsuit doesn't divert energy and attention away from the Bay's watersheds and tributaries to courtrooms and lawyers."

The lawsuit alleges that the EPA has failed to comply with a congressional mandate to clean up the Bay which it says stems from legislation directing the agency to implement Bay agreements signed in 1983, 1987 and 2000. The lawsuit also alleges that potential agency actions were "unreasonably withheld," and that the EPA has failed to meet established deadlines.

Several commercial and sports fishing groups have signed on to the lawsuit, and so has former Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes and former Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Tayloe Murphy.

While the group filed its complaint in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., it did not immediately take the action of serving the complaint to the EPA and the Justice Department, a necessary step for the case to move forward. John Mueller, an attorney with the CBF, said the organization was hoping to meet soon with officials from the new Obama administration to discuss the issue.

"We purposely did not serve EPA or Justice with a complaint, so there is no time limit really pushing anybody right now," Mueller said. The organization has 120 days from the filing of the complaint to serve the two agencies.

To learn more about the CBF's complaint, see "Bay advocates threaten suit to require EPA to act on cleanup," November 2008.