Congress members demand answers from EPA on whether it’s ‘backing away’ from role enforcing Chesapeake Bay cleanup

Six U.S. senators and more than a dozen members of Congress are demanding the Environmental Protection Agency take “immediate steps” to show the agency will hold states accountable to a Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan, and gave it two weeks to answer questions about whether the Trump administration is “backing away from its statutory obligations” to see that the bay’s health is restored.

In a letter being sent to EPA on Friday, provided to The Baltimore Sun, the Democrats demanded answers by Jan. 24 to a set of questions with the same theme: Will the Trump administration force states in the bay’s watershed to meet pollution reduction targets they agreed to in a 2010 pact?


“It’s important that you take immediate steps to demonstrate EPA’s commitment and accountability to the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay,” they wrote.

Their fears stem from recent comments by an EPA official that the cleanup blueprint is “aspirational” and not “enforceable,” which have stirred confusion and fear among bay advocates. They also prompted Gov. Larry Hogan this week to pursue a lawsuit against the EPA and Pennsylvania, which, of all the six states in the bay watershed plus the District of Columbia, is farthest from meeting its pollution reduction goals.


In the letter, the lawmakers said they were “deeply disturbed” by the EPA official’s statement and said it runs counter to the text of the 2010 agreement, a 2015 federal appeals court ruling and statements made by EPA officials as recently as 2017 in which they pledged to take action against Pennsylvania if it falls short of its pollution reduction goals.

The EPA did not respond immediately Friday to a request for comment.

EPA spokeswoman Terri White said this week the EPA “remains steadfast in its commitment to helping our partners meet" those targets, and “will continue to provide substantial support, track progress, and take appropriate actions within our authorities to ensure the Bay and local waters are protected and restored."

EPA officials said the cleanup plan — based on the “total maximum daily load" of pollutants the bay can withstand, and known as the TMDL — is merely “informational” for states to use to create plans and set permit limits that are enforceable.

The lawmakers’ questions look past that distinction and ask if the agency will “use all tools available to hold jurisdictions accountable to meet” the TMDL’s standards of acceptable levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment. Those pollutants cloud waters and strip them of dissolved oxygen, fouling aquatic ecosystems.

The lawmakers who signed the letter include all of Maryland’s delegation to Washington except for Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican: Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, and Reps. John Sarbanes, Steny Hoyer, Dutch Ruppersberger, Anthony Brown, David Trone and Jamie Raskin. Others who signed include all four senators from Virginia and Delaware and eight Congress members representing those states and the District of Columbia.