Ahh Yogi, say it isn't so.
The history of Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts is littered with promises broken and commitments unfulfilled.
This pattern is about to change - or maybe not. Right now, the region is making decisions that will either usher in a new day in the effort to "Save the Bay" or simply continue with the status quo of the last 25 years.
In signing the Chesapeake 2000 agreement, the states, the District of Columbia, the Chesapeake Bay Commission and the EPA committed to reducing pollution sufficiently to get the Bay off the EPA's impaired waters list by 2010. In 2008, it was clear that goal would be missed by a mile. This failure triggered the need to develop a regulatory pollution budget, or total maximum daily load, for the Chesapeake watershed.
In addition, that same year, the Bay's leaders vowed to change the way they did business. They promised to set new, measurable, incremental, two-year milestones - and to meet them. In May 2009, they identified those milestones and how much pollution reduction they would achieve.
At the time, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation was quoted in the press as saying those first milestone goals were "way too cautious." Discouragingly, as of today, the Bay jurisdictions are behind schedule in implementing many of their milestones, raising questions about their ability to make it to home plate on those modest goals.
This year, the jurisdictions are developing watershed implementation plans, which are supposed to offer specifics about how they intend to meet the reductions called for in the Bay's TMDL. The guidance from EPA was clear:
"EPA expects the jurisdictions' WIPs to identify a schedule for accomplishing reductions in nutrient and sediment loads needed to attain water quality standards. EPA also expects those plans to include dates for enhancing programs and implementing key actions to achieve those reductions, with all such actions to be implemented as soon as possible and by no later than 2025."
The draft WIPs were due Sept. 1. Guess what? The plans turned in last month don't meet the EPA's expectations.
With the exception of the District of Columbia, whose pollution reduction efforts for nitrogen and phosphorus are governed almost exclusively by existing regulatory and legal requirements, the plans lack the necessary clear articulation of what the states will do, and when, to reach the pollution reduction goals. Not one state outlined detailed commitments to find new and necessary funding. Not one specified what regulations it would adopt and when. And not one addressed what it will do differently to achieve compliance with existing laws and regulations. And the District of Columbia's plan, which may be adequate to achieve nutrient pollution reductions, comes up short with respect to reducing sediment pollution.
It's not yet time to give up hope, though. The EPA has said it will hold the states accountable by imposing consequences that range from increased enforcement to objecting to permits for new development or increasing regulatory requirements. The EPA made this commitment in correspondence with the states as well as in its recent settlement agreement with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Fowler et al. v. EPA.
This August, in a letter to the EPA, the CBF called on the agency to be specific about the consequences it will impose if the final state WIPs, due by the end of the end of November, are insufficient. For example, the EPA can object to the issuance of new Clean Water Act permits that discharge new or increased loadings of pollutionâ€”permits ranging from those for sewage treatment plants or urban stormwater systems to major new construction sites. The EPA can also expand its permitting authority to encompass more sources of pollution, operations and communities.
The inadequacy of the draft WIPs submitted in September show that the states have not yet taken the EPA seriously enough. Perhaps they will if the EPA clearly identifies the consequences that it will impose for inadequate WIPs.
As Yogi Berra also said, "It ain't over till it's over."