Baltimore, other big cities back EPA in Bay cleanup dispute

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Baltimore has joined with other major U.S. cities in defending the federal government's authority to impose a "pollution diet" on the Chesapeake Bay.

New York City, with sign-ons from Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and San Francisco, filed a "friend-of-the-court" brief Monday in federal appeals court in a case challenging the Environmental Protection Agency's imposition of bay cleanup goals on Maryland and the other five states in the Chesapeake watershed.


Agriculture and building industry groups are appealing a lower court's ruling last year upholding EPA's actions in seeking to restore the bay. They argue the agency has exceeded its legal authority in trying to make states curb farm and development runoff.

The agency in 2010 adopted a "total maximum daily load" limiting pollution of the Chesapeake, ordering Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and Delaware to join in reducing the amount of nutrients and sediment flowing into the bay from sewage plants, farms and city and suburban streets. EPA has called it the largest and most complex such cleanup plan it's ever developed.


Industry groups contend that by setting pollution reduction targets for each state, the federal government has intruded into land use decisions that are the province of state or local governments. They warn the plan could potentially
harm sectors of the U.S. economy.

Attorneys general for 21 states, from Alaska to Florida, have sided with the industry groups, fearing that EPA could step in and order similarly sweeping cleanups of other waterways. The biggest of those is the Mississippi River basin, which drains parts or all of 31 states - including western Maryland.  The river and its tributaries flush enough farm fertilizer and other waste into the Gulf of Mexico to create a massive "dead zone" there that dwarfs the one that besets the Chesapeake every summer.

Lawyers for the cities counter that unless EPA can require cleanup from all sources of water pollution, including storm runoff from farmland and development, the burden will fall disproportionately on sewage plants run by municipalities and other facilities that are directly regulated via discharge permits. According to EPA, agriculture runoff remains a leading source of the bay's nutrient and sediment pollution; urban and suburban runoff, though a smaller contributor, is growing as development spreads.

Environmental groups, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, some local governments and groups representing operators of municipal sewage plants also have filed briefs supporting EPA.

No date has been set yet for arguments before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.