By NICOLE DAO
Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS -- Maryland and Washington are on target to meet "pollution diet" goals required to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Friday -- but the other five states in the bay watershed have plans that are seriously deficient and could face federal intervention.
Proposals submitted by Maryland and the district were the only two on target in regards to nutrient and sediment levels statewide, and only minimal changes were required to their plans in order to meet pollution cap levels released Friday by the EPA.
The EPA is requiring six states and the district to reduce harmful nitrogen and phosphorus levels by 25 percent, and sediment levels by at least 16 percent by 2025 as part of the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load. And for the first time, the EPA is threatening federal action if states don't meet their targets.
"We are very pleased by the positive assessment Maryland's Draft Watershed Implementation Plan has received from the EPA," Gov. Martin O'Malley said, in a statement. "Their response demonstrates that our hard work over the past four years has laid the groundwork for moving forward our efforts to restore our cherished Chesapeake Bay."
The rest of the watershed states' plans, including Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia, were subject to scrutiny, according to the EPA.
"If they don't (meet the goals), the EPA already demonstrated that they're prepared to write the plans for them and to impose an improved plan on those states," Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William C. Baker said.
However, states have the opportunity to revise their plans through Nov. 29 to meet the requirements of the EPA.
Less than a month after states submitted their Watershed Implementation Plans, the EPA released a draft plan to improve overall water quality in the bay and its surrounding tributaries.
The plan is required under federal law, according to an executive order signed by President Obama in May 2009, and it allows the EPA to implement strict restoration deadlines on states and to enforce penalties if they do not meet their goals.
EPA Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin emphasized that the EPA wants the final plan to be a "hybrid," using more of the states' implementation plans rather than requiring federal intervention. But if deficiencies are not addressed in areas such as wastewater treatment plants, large animal agriculture operations and municipal stormwater systems, the EPA could step in.
"We will be working very closely with the states' agencies to provide them feedback on our evaluations and to help them strengthen their plans," Garvin said.
The draft will be available for public comment starting Friday for a 45-day period, but so far, it has received praise from various environmental groups.
"The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should be applauded for meeting this important deadline to keep the bay-wide pollution diet on track," said Environment Maryland Policy Advocate Tommy Landers, in a statement.
The EPA's plan is a change from the last three decades of voluntary compliance with the Clean Water Act, the Bay Foundation's Baker said.
"If they do what they say, it's a new day for the Chesapeake Bay," Baker said.
Over a quarter of a century ago, studies showed that the Chesapeake Bay contained many marine dead zones that resulted in massive fish kills and a dramatic decline in oyster populations.
In response, the Chesapeake Bay Agreement was enacted in 1983 as a voluntary government partnership among Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, the district, the Chesapeake Bay Commission and the EPA to begin restoration efforts.
However, little progress has been made.
The 2009 Bay Barometer by the Chesapeake Bay Program reported restoration programs and projects had reached 64 percent of their goals.
The goal of the draft, the largest Total Maximum Daily Load plan developed by the EPA, is to have 60 percent of restoration practices on the ground by 2017, and 100 percent of the practices in place by 2025, Garvin said.
However, Garvin stressed that by 2025, the bay may not be fully restored.
"We recognize the fact that Mother Nature takes some time to react," Garvin said.
The final plan will be available on Dec. 31.