EASTON — Gov. Larry Hogan directed Attorney General Brian Frosh to pursue legal actions against Pennsylvania and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to protect Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts, according to a statement issued by the governor’s office on Wednesday, Jan. 8.
Hogan is receiving praise from commercial watermen and environmental groups.
“All the farmers and people that live in Maryland are doing their part. It is Pennsylvania that is not doing theirs,” said Rob Newberry, chairman of the Delmarva Fisheries Association Inc. “It is time they step up and do their part to ensure that our waterways are clean.”
Since his campaign for governor in 2014, Hogan repeatedly has called on states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed — including Pennsylvania — to step up and take responsibility for sediment and debris that pours into the Chesapeake Bay via the Susquehanna River.
The 100,000 square-mile Chesapeake Bay watershed stretches from Cooperstown, N.Y., to Virginia Beach, Va., as the country’s largest estuary.
“We have a generational responsibility to protect the Bay, and we simply cannot afford to fall short of these shared obligations,” Hogan wrote. “Therefore, I ask that you commence litigation against the EPA and Pennsylvania, and in close coordination with the Maryland Department of the Environment.”
Hogan, who is serving his second term as chairman of the Chesapeake Executive Council, has said on numerous occasions that the EPA is not doing its part. The Chesapeake Executive Council consists of the governors of the six watershed states, the mayor of the District of Columbia, the chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Commission and the EPA administrator.
In August, after watershed states submitted their final Chesapeake Bay cleanup plans to the federal administration, the governor expressed “alarming concerns” about Pennsylvania’s lack of progress on clean water goals and called on the EPA to use its robust oversight powers to hold states accountable.
“Pennsylvania, which is under ‘enhanced’ or ‘backstop’ federal oversight due to failed pollution reduction efforts, has proposed a draft Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) under which it would fall drastically short of its agreed-upon 2025 pollution reduction targets,” Hogan wrote. “The EPA currently appears to have no intention of taking the necessary action to ensure Pennsylvania’s compliance with its commitments.”
Chesapeake Bay Foundation President Will Baker agreed with Hogan’s stance and hopes the issue will be resolved sooner rather than later.
“We commend Gov. Hogan for pursuing legal options,” Baker said. “The Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint requires all states in the watershed to do their part and EPA to hold them accountable.”
“So far, Pennsylvania’s elected officials have not made the investments needed to meet their clean water commitments and EPA’s failure to impose consequences puts the entire cleanup at risk,” Baker said.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation first sued EPA in 2009 for its failure to enforce the Clean Water Act regarding Chesapeake Bay pollution. The settlement to that lawsuit established the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, or Bay TMDL, which set a pollution reduction requirement for each state in the Bay’s watershed.
In 2019, Pennsylvania submitted to EPA its most recent plan to reduce Bay pollutants. The plan included an annual estimated funding gap of more than $300 million and fell 25 percent short of the state’s requirement for reducing nitrogen.
Meanwhile Maryland and Virginia’s plans were mostly on track to meet their pollution reduction goals by 2025, although Maryland must make more progress on reducing pollutants from agriculture and stormwater runoff, according to the CBF statement.
According to CBF, “Pennsylvania is the lynchpin of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup. The state makes up the bulk of the Susquehanna River’s watershed and the Susquehanna supplies about 50 percent of the freshwater that enters the Bay.”
CBF also has been considering a second lawsuit as EPA has failed to vigorously enforce the Blueprint.
In August, CBF sent a letter to Hogan in his role as Chairman of the Chesapeake Executive Council urging him to take a leadership role and to consider ways to hold Pennsylvania accountable if EPA failed to move forward with enforcement.
In a Jan. 9 statement, Kim Coble, executive director of Maryland League of Conservation Voters, applauded Hogan and Frosh for taking action and emphasized how important it is to get this issue corrected.
“Their pursuit of legal actions is crucial to ensure that the Chesapeake Bay Clean Up Plan is implemented and a clean Chesapeake Bay is achieved,” Coble said.
Jeff Harrison, president of the Talbot Watermen Association, said, “The EPA shouldn’t give New York and Pennsylvania a break because it will cost a lot of money.
“Nobody wants clean water more than watermen do,” Harrison said.
Hogan has committed a historic $5 billion toward Bay restoration initiatives, and recently secured an increase in federal funding for Bay cleanup.
“Larry Hogan has done more for the Chesapeake Bay than any other governor ever,” Newberry said. “The effort he has put in on this issue has been nothing short of tremendous.”
Editor Connie Connolly contributed to this story.