States' Bay cleanup plans due - Va dragging feet?
Summer's over, school's back in session, and the states' first major homework assignment is due today (Sept. 1) in the new Chesapeake Bay cleanup drive being directed by the federal government.
The six bay watershed states and District of Columbia are supposed to be submitting draft "watershed implementation plans" to the Environmental Protection Agency spelling out how they expect to reduce pollution enough to restore the Chesapeake's troubled water quality.
Once EPA has those plans -- from Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, DC, Delaware, New York and West Virginia -- it will put the finishing touches on a baywide "pollution diet" parsing out how each state must reduce nutrients and sediment flowing into the bay's tributaries. It's a big deal, because the diet will require more costly upgrades of wastewater treatment plants, and greater efforts by farmers and urban and suburban communities to control polluted storm runoff.
Maryland, one of the three major bay states, expects to get its plan in by mid-afternoon, says Dawn Stoltzfus, communications director for the Maryland Department of the Environment.
But an EPA source says Virginia officials have said theirs won't be ready until sometime Friday. A spokesman for Virginia's Department of Environmental Quality said today he was checking on the status of the state's plan.
(UPDATE 1:30 pm EDT: Jon Capacasa, EPA's mid-Atlantic water protection director, confirmed in a telephone briefing for reporters that Virginia officials had requested a two-day extension "to make sure the governor and senior folks in the administration support the strategy." The EPA official said he didn't know why the state needed more time to get the governor's backing,but called the request "reasonable" and said it shouldn't disrupt the agency's work.)
It's not clear if this is just a production glitch, or a sign of looming trouble. Virginia's Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell wrote EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson earlier this summer expressing his opposition to expanded federal regulation on the bay, saying the feds should be working with farmers rather than riding herd on them. Many are speculating that the EPA pollution diet will spark lawsuits objecting to its requirements and to the federal government's authority to impose them on state and local governments.
Two days late on a report might not seem like a big deal, but EPA is on an extremely tight time schedule to produce its bay pollution diet, bureaucratically known as a "total maximum daily load," by year's end. And it's the states who'd asked the federal agency to meet that deadline.
Agency officials say they need to review what the states are pledging to do before issuing their draft baywide pollution diet. EPA's draft diet is due by Sept. 24, after which there'll be six weeks set aside for public commnets and meetings on what both the states and federal government are proposing to do. The states then have until Nov. 29 to revise their draft plans, and EPA is committed to publish its final pollution diet by Dec. 31.
Technically, the feds have until May 1, 2011 to establish the baywide pollution diet under a Virginia court consent decree. But state officials had asked EPA to get it done by year's end, and the agency agreed. Ergo the time pressure.
So even a slight delay, if others follow, threatens to gum up the bureaucratic process. Not to mention how it might undermine the public's already shaky confidence that the states and federal government really really mean it this time - after more than 25 years of missed deadlines and cleanup goals - when they say they're ready now to start doing what's needed to restore the bay by 2025.
(Top: Chesapeake Bay from Sandy Point State Park near Annapolis, AP photo. Above: Boats passing algae blooms mouth of Elizabeth River near Norfolk, VA, July 2010, photo courtesy Chesapeake Bay Foundation.)