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November 4, 2011

House panel pans EPA Bay plan, as scientists see progress


Republican (Correction: and Democratic) lawmakers in Washington questioned federally ordered Chesapeake Bay pollution reductions on Thursday, even as scientists in Maryland were reporting signs the long-running cleanup effort has been making progress after all.

The House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy and Forestry grilled an Environmental Protection Agency official, complaining about the costs of meeting the agency's bay restoration targets and questioning the accuracy of its computer model for setting them.

"We are in the midst of a process that could cost individual states like Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania more than 10 billion dollars per state," Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., said, according to a report in Agri-Pulse. "What's most problematic is that no one can say with certainty whether the cost is worth the effort, as we still do not have a cost-benefit analysis of this process."

Shawn Garvin, EPA's mid-Atlantic regional administrator, told lawmakers the agency hope to have by 2013 an analysis of the costs and benefits of pollution reductions undertaken by the states to comply with the Total Maximum Daily Load, commonly called a "pollution diet," the agency has set for the bay.  And he said the agency is working to refine its computer model and plans a full reevaluation of cleanup targets and methods by 2017, midway to the 2025 deadline for having all restoration measures in place.

Meanwhile, scientists at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science said that after taking a new look at 60 years' worth of water monitoring data, they've found that the "dead zone" that forms each year in the bay has actually been shrinking in late summer since the late 1980s, tracking declines in nitrogen levels measured in the Susquehanna River, the bay's largest tributary.

As I reported today in The Baltimore Sun, the researchers said that they were encouraged by the finding. In an ecosystem as large (64,000 square miles) and complex as the bay is, it's been hard to find clear evidence whether it's getting better or worse amid weather-driven annual variations.  The scientists said their new analysis shows that pollution reductions made to date have improved water quality some, though still far from enough to declare the bay restored to health.

(Sandy Point State Park. 2009 Baltimore Sun photo by Jed Kirschbaum)

Posted by Tim Wheeler at 10:25 AM | | Comments (5)


Not ironic that Republicans in such a committee would question the projected cost of such a Bay cleanup; what is pathetic with their anti environmental or EPA way of thinking is let the pollution continue to flood and destroy the Bay from the other States and DC and not fund for the clean up essentially allowing the Bay to wither up and die. These are the representatives of various business owners who are opposed to such EPA and scientific findings that correlate directly from the various forms of pollution that each of the states mentioned contributes. There has been poorly constructed environmental projects in the Bay over the years when one faction would fight the other as to who was right while the Bay and its inhabitant's slowly or in cases quickly died off. Congress has a right to ask questions but the validity of the need for the Bay cleanup to both continue and expand as paid by the involved states and DC is well known and working. It is not about the Budget deficit with too many of the Republicans involved but rather their anti EPA, global warming and overall any improvement in the environment of this country.

Too many Pennslyvania farmers who don't care about the Chesapeake Bay and are polluting it daily. Too many rich folk in Maryland who empty their boat's sewage into the bay and just don't care; They swim in their swimming pools, not in the bay. To them it's just a big toilet.

It is pretty clear to me what Rep Thompson's true ambitions are. He represents the 5th District of Pennsylvania that is smack dab in the center of the Marcellus Shale formation as well as the Susquehanna River watershed. The Susquehanna River is one of the largest sources of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. I'm sure that it would be very profitable for Mr Thompson to be able to reduce regulations on fracking and water use in his district. Just my opinion.

Terrible reporting Tim. You obviously weren't at the hearing bc Democrat Tim Holden was just as critical as the Republicans. Read the Committee press release. Seriously though, the Sun isn't biased.

TW: I wasn't at the hearing, which is why I referenced the Agri-Pulse piece. Pennsylvania farm groups are unhappy, and the state's farm bureau is among those suing EPA over the TMDL, so maybe it's not surpirsing that Pennsylvania representatives from both parties want to stand up for their constituents. But from the canned quote in the committee press release, Rep. Tim Holden, who is the ranking Democrat, doesn't sound quite as critical.
Here's a link:

The main point of the post, in any event, was to contrast the political debate over the Bay cleanup with evidence it appears to be making progress. Some are questioning whether the cleanup is worth it.

Water use regulations in general maybe. Fracking is more of a localized issue: it could affect a well or spring, but relative to what gets into a river, the quantities of additives used should be inconsequential compared to the stuff that we put down the drain and don't filter out in treatment.

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About the bloggers
Tim WheelerTim Wheeler reports on the environment and Chesapeake Bay. A native of West Virginia, he has focused mainly on Maryland's environment since moving here in 1983. Along the way, he's crewed aboard a skipjack in the bay, canoed under city streets up the Jones Fall from the Inner Harbor, and gone deep underground in a western Maryland coal mine. He loves seafood, rambles in the country and good stories. He hopes to share some here.

Contributor Christy Zuccarini has been blogging about the local DIY craft scene for a year for She brings her pespective on all things handmade to B'More Green, where she will highlight projects you can do yourself as well as crafters who are integrating sustainable methods and materials.

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