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States, including Pa., off pace to meet Chesapeake Bay cleanup goals

By John L. Micek 

Three states in the sprawling Chesapeake Bay watershed are off the pace to meet their 2025 clean-up goals, according to a new report by an environmental watchdog group.

But the report by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation does have a glimmer of good news for Pennsylvania, which has long been viewed as lagging in meeting its clean-up commitments.

Thanks to a $220 million commitment in this year’s state budget for the newly created Clean Streams Fund, Pennsylvania is building “momentum,” though it, too, is on pace to miss the 2025 deadline set down in the 12-year-old Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.

In a statement, the environmental advocacy group called the appropriation an “unprecedented and critical down payment” toward clean-up efforts.

In addition to Pennsylvania, analysts considered clean-up efforts in two more critical states: Maryland and Virginia. All three states account for roughly 90 percent of the bay’s pollution.

Its projections, based on the Chesapeake Bay Program’s scientific model and the states’ two-year-milestone commitments, indicate all three states will achieve their 2025 commitments for reducing pollution from wastewater, but not from agriculture or urban and suburban runoff, according to the Capital-Star’s sibling site, the Virginia Mercury.

Those deficiencies in the agriculture and stormwater sectors could derail the progress of even those states that have made major strides in stemming pollution, the foundation said in a statement.

“While significant progress in one sector may put a state on track to meet its total 2025 goals today, without progress in all sectors, states risk becoming off track in the future,” the organization said.

Since the blueprint was rolled out in 2010, states have put policies in place to meet the pollution-reduction goals included in the document.

“Much of this progress is due to reducing pollution from wastewater treatment plants,” the foundation noted. “In fact, wastewater treatment upgrades are the key reason Maryland and Virginia, individually, may still meet their 2025 pollution-reduction commitments.”

Washington, D.C. and West Virginia are on track to meet their 2025 commitments, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s evaluation of the Chesapeake Bay jurisdictions’ two-year milestones, according to the Mercury. States within the watershed have also already achieved 100 percent of the targeted sediment reductions.

But even with that new program in Pennsylvania, and another $154 million effort aimed at helping farmers reduce runoff, “there is an enormous amount of work to do,” the foundation said in its statement.

The two initiatives are “are historic down payments for the great amount of work that remains for getting Pennsylvania back on track toward its goals of reducing pollution to local rivers and streams, and the bay,” the foundation’s acting Pennsylvania executive director, Bill Chain, said in the statement.

It will take “sustained investments of financial and technical resources at historic levels,” for farmers to meet a key, pollution-reduction metric,” Chain said.

And while farmers have “demonstrated that they appreciate the value of healthy soils and clean water … they cannot do it by themselves,” Chain continued. “Supporting conservation implementation is critical to the health, economic wellbeing, and quality of life of all Pennsylvanians.”

Foundation officials said they recognize the magnitude of the challenge facing them, and the organization is “recommitting” itself to meet its pollution-reduction goals.

“While the Bay states collectively are not on track to meet the Blueprint’s 2025 implementation deadline, the partnership must build on lessons learned, achieve the Blueprint commitments as quickly as possible, and maintain the limits long-term,” the foundation’s president, Hilary Harp Falk, said.

“The watershed cannot afford delay given the urgent challenges of climate change and a growing population. The states must demonstrate the leadership necessary to complete the job and [the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] must hold all accountable for any failures,” Harp Falk said. “By recommitting to the Blueprint principles of partnership, science, and accountability, we can still leave a healthy, resilient watershed for the next generation.”

Pennsylvania Capital Star is part of the States Newsroom, a network of similar news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity.

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