Pennsylvania isn’t reducing Chesapeake Bay pollution enough

Pennsylvania still fails to reduce Chesapeake Bay pollution despite millions in new funding allocated for cleanup.

The federal government says it will continue increased enforcement in the state indefinitely.

Pennsylvania falls short of its goals of reducing annual pollution of the bay by 34 million pounds of nitrogen, 531 million pounds of sediment and 700,000 pounds of phosphorus.

Lawmakers have allocated $154 million from America’s federal bailout plan to establish a new Clean Streams Fund to help with bay cleanup goals.

But on Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency said the state’s latest revised watershed implementation plan will miss its nitrogen target by more than 9 million pounds.

“We are disappointed that WIP is not seeing the progress we had hoped for, so our tough love policy continues,” said EPA Regional Administrator Adam Ortiz.

The EPA began increased enforcement in Pennsylvania in April. The strategy includes increased inspections for pollution sources such as agriculture and industrial and municipal stormwater. The EPA has also increased permit oversight and can review federal funds to ensure they are being spent more efficiently across the state to make progress toward 2025 goals.

In a letter to the state Department of Environmental Protection, Ortiz credited Pennsylvania’s establishment of the Clean Streams Fund and adoption of other best management practices to curb pollution, but said more and sustained funding at the state level needed to be dedicated to improving water quality.

This is the third time that Pennsylvania’s plan, known as the Phase III WIP, has failed the EPA’s mark.

The state first presented the plan in 2019. This fell 9.8 million pounds short of its nitrogen target. Pennsylvania submitted an amended Phase III draft WIP to the EPA on December 30, 2021. The EPA released its review of this version on April 18 of this year, giving Pennsylvania 90 days to file a final amended Phase III WIP. Pennsylvania submitted its final amended plan on July 18.

Ortiz said it’s not a lack of preparedness among Commonwealth communities or farmers that’s causing the pollution problems, but a matter of scale. The bay gets half of its fresh water from the Susquehanna River.

“Yet, there’s no question that there’s more activity, more action and more progress happening on-site than ever before,” Ortiz said.

DEP spokeswoman Deborah Klenotic said the monitoring of the state’s waterways shows current efforts to reduce pollution are working and that the agency is committed to maintaining and increasing those efforts.

“We continue to work with our federal partners, including the US Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, to implement projects and practices that show real results on the ground, and we look forward to new funding through the Pennsylvania Clean Streams Fund to improve the.” continue to accelerate local water quality,” Klenotic said in a statement.

This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration between WESA, The Allegheny Front, WITF and WHYY.