Ahead of a September meeting of the Chesapeake Bay states, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan again called on Pennsylvania to step up efforts to clean up the estuary and urged the EPA to hold the commonwealth accountable. From Pennsylvania, he got a quick response.
A Pennsylvania official told The Baltimore Sun the state has made “great strides” at reducing water pollution but would “gladly accept” money from “any entity in Maryland” to do more.
“Unlike Maryland, Pennsylvania doesn’t generate millions of dollars from tourism on the Chesapeake Bay and can’t use those resources, at the moment, to improve water quality,” said J.J. Abbott, a spokesman for Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat. “Pennsylvania is committed to having projects and practices in place by 2025 to attain our goals and meet our requirements in full.”
In a letter Thursday to Wolf and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler, Hogan said Pennsylvania has committed to only 73% of the pollution reductions necessary by 2025 for the commonwealth to meet goals set in a multistate pollution “diet” for the bay.
“We urgently need a more complete and comprehensive commitment from Pennsylvania, as well as a clear and robust demonstration from the Environmental Protection Agency that appropriate oversight powers will be used to maintain our momentum,” the Republican governor wrote.
The letter follows a request from Hogan last week for Pennsylvania officials to brief his administration and the EPA on environmental programs, including any efforts to reduce sewage pollution from Harrisburg that was detailed in a recent report. Abbott said Pennsylvania officials plan to participate in a briefing, as requested.
EPA officials did not respond to a request for comment.
Outlining the commonwealth’s efforts, Abbott said Wolf and the Pennsylvania General Assembly have approved a $23.1 million farm bill that includes new conservation efforts. He said it prioritizes work in counties within the Chesapeake watershed — a wide stretch across the middle of Pennsylvania he said includes 15,000 miles of streams and 33,000 farms. Wolf has also proposed a $4.5 billion infrastructure plan to invest in flood mitigation and “green infrastructure," Abbott said.
At the same time, Maryland is not free from criticism for its Chesapeake cleanup plans. The state has laid out programs to meet its pollution diet goals, but the Chesapeake Bay Foundation faulted Maryland for relying on expensive practices that must be repeated every year, such as planting cover crops on farmland, instead of more long-term investments such as restoration of forests and wetlands.
Environmentalists have also expressed concern about continued pollution from septic systems and urban stormwater, both areas in which they say the Hogan administration has been lax.
The health of the Chesapeake has improved in recent years, compared with its historic lows, but the latest indications are that it still has a long way to go to be considered restored. Its dead zone, an area of water with little or no dissolved oxygen that forms along the bottom of waterways every summer, is among the largest in the past 35 years this year.
Will Baker, the foundation’s president, said he found Hogan’s letter encouraging — especially as the bay’s leading advocacy group works with the governors of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia on a resolution to be considered when they meet at a Chesapeake Executive Council meeting Sept. 5.
The foundation is pushing for an agreement under which the states would work together, and with federal agencies, to find money to help Pennsylvania farmers adopt practices that promote cleaner waterways.
“I have not seen the governor of Maryland reach out in this way quite as strongly or as precisely,” Baker said. “We think there’s a lot of opportunity for the states to work together with the federal agencies.”