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EPA gives mixed grades on Chesapeake Bay cleanup plans

U.S. Environmental Protection AgencyEnvironmental PollutionEnvironmental PoliticsMartin O'Malley

Federal regulators have given mostly high marks to the latest Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan drafted by Maryland but found fault with Pennsylvania's and Virginia's restoration blueprints.

In reports posted online late Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency said Maryland's draft "watershed implementation plan" for meeting the agency's bay pollution reduction goals "meets EPA's expectations."

Maryland and the other five states that drain into the Chesapeake have been working with the agency for the past three years on a "pollution diet" aimed at reducing nutrient and sediment pollution fouling the bay by 20 percent to 25 percent. The states are required to have all control measures needed to restore the bay in place by 2025.

The EPA mostly praised draft plans submitted in December by Maryland, Delaware, the District of Columbia and West Virginia, but warned of "enhanced oversight" of pollution permitting and stepped-up federal enforcement in Pennsylvania and Virginia if they do not address shortcomings in their strategies for bay cleanup.

The agency noted that Maryland's pollution-control efforts depend in part on closing the funding gap for upgrading the state's 67 largest sewage treatment plants over the next five years. Gov. Martin O'Malley is pushing for legislation in Annapolis that would effectively double the "flush fee" paid by every household and business to cover the projected $385 million shortfall.

Maryland's cleanup plan also relies on tightening regulations on where, when and how farmers fertilize their fields, the EPA noted, and on requiring Baltimore and the state's largest counties to reduce polluted runoff from streets and parking lots. The state is behind schedule on issuing new stormwater-control permits to local governments, and officials have gone back to the drawing board on new farm "nutrient" rules after an outpouring of objections from farmers and environmentalists alike.

John R. Griffin, Maryland's secretary of natural resources, said state officials expect to propose new farm nutrient rules by May and to issue stormwater permits by July.

While the EPA's concerns with Maryland's plans were relatively minor, federal officials warned that they would take a variety of actions in Pennsylvania and Virginia to ensure cuts in pollution, including objecting to permits for large-scale animal farming operations in Pennsylvania and enhanced oversight of Virginia's regulation of stormwater runoff.

Jeff Corbin, senior bay adviser to EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, said in an email that federal officials are prepared to take such actions but would rather not. The plans the states submitted two months ago were drafts, he noted, and the states have until the end of March to firm them up.

Virginia's cleanup plan "seems pretty strong,'' Corbin said in an email, but the state did not submit all the data needed to assess it fully.

"We will be working with [Pennsylvania officials] between now and March 30 to strengthen their plan," Corbin added. "There have been some good discussions with them recently."

tim.wheeler@baltsun.com

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