WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine today announced that the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia intend to sue the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failing to protect the Chesapeake Bay and local waters, including the Potomac River. In a Notice of Intent letter, the Attorneys General of DC, Maryland, and Virginia informed the EPA that they intend to file suit over the agency’s failure to uphold the terms of a multistate agreement to reduce pollution levels in the Chesapeake Bay in violation of its duty under the Clean Water Act. The EPA has a legal duty to make sure states and the District develop and implement plans to meet established pollution reduction goals, but the agency has failed to require New York and Pennsylvania to develop and implement adequate plans. This places additional burdens on all the other states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) seeks to compel the EPA to resume its critical enforcement role in ensuring pollution is reduced and the health of the Bay is restored.
“Our coalition of State Attorneys General will not allow the EPA to walk away from its enforcement obligations and undermine decades of work to reduce pollution across the Chesapeake Bay watershed,” said AG Racine. “The District is committed to reaching our pollution reduction goals, but if other states are not doing their part, and the EPA is not keeping watch, we will fail to restore the Bay and our local waters, including the Potomac River.”
Protecting the Chesapeake Bay
The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States, and home to thousands of plant and animal species. The Bay’s watershed spans 64,000 square miles and includes rivers and streams in the District, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, and West Virginia. Efforts to protect the Bay are uniquely challenging because water from each of those states flows into it, bringing significant amounts of harmful pollution with it. Over the decades, the Bay’s water quality has diminished, primarily due to pollution. The watershed states and the federal government have long worked together to improve the quality of their own local waters, including the Potomac River in the District, and to restore the health of the Bay.
“Protecting and restoring the Chesapeake Bay requires a comprehensive effort by each of the watershed states as well as the EPA,” said AG Herring. “As the administrator of the Chesapeake Bay Agreement, the EPA must treat each of the partners equally and make sure every state is pulling its weight and upholding its portion of the agreement, but instead, the Trump EPA simply rubberstamped plans that are plainly inadequate. I hope we are able to come to an understanding that is beneficial for all parties, while keeping the health of the Bay at the forefront.”
In 1983, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, the Chesapeake Bay Commission, and the EPA signed the Chesapeake Bay Agreement – the first multistate effort to restore the Bay. This agreement led to additional agreements to reduce pollution levels, and to Clean Water Act amendments, designed specifically to restore and protect the Bay’s ecosystem. In 2010, the EPA and the watershed states agreed to and began implementing an overall plan which aimed to restore the Bay by 2025 by setting pollution levels for the entire watershed.
To ensure that states would reduce pollution to agreed-upon levels, the EPA required them to develop and implement plans to achieve their specific pollution reduction goals. Many of the Bay states have developed strong plans and dedicated significant resources to improve the health of their local waters and the Chesapeake Bay. For example, the District has spent millions of dollars reducing pollution loads, monitoring water quality, and improving water infrastructure.
EPA’s Failure to Uphold the Multistate Agreement
The final phase of each state’s pollution reduction plans were submitted to the EPA in August 2019. While the agency concluded that the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, and West Virginia were on track, their analysis determined that Pennsylvania’s plan would only meet 75 percent of its reduction target and New York’s plan would only meet 64 percent. Despite this, the EPA has not required these states to prepare new plans.
The EPA’s failure to require Pennsylvania and New York to come up with new plans will allow excessive pollution to flow from these states to the Bay. As the attorneys general write in their Notice of Intent “in failing to ensure that these jurisdictions develop management plans to achieve and maintain the pollution reductions ... EPA has allowed these jurisdictions to send approximately ten million excess pounds of nitrogen into the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed every year, and threaten the success of efforts to restore the Bay.”
“The Chesapeake Bay is one of our country’s most valuable natural resources,” said AG Frosh. “Restoring the health of the Bay will take a coordinated, multistate effort with every state sharing the burden. The EPA has abandoned its responsibility to regulate and manage the efforts of the Bay states and together, we fully intend to hold the EPA accountable and not allow it to step away from its regulatory duty.”
A copy of the multistate letter to the EPA is at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-05/NOI-EPA-Chesapeake-Bay.pdf
OAG’s Environmental Work
Over the past two years, OAG has devoted new resources to protecting the environment and the health and safety of District residents. OAG is deeply involved in the District’s ongoing cleanup of the Anacostia River and recently sued agrochemical company Monsanto for contaminating the Districts natural resources with toxic cancer-causing chemicals. The office is also focused on addressing persistent local environmental problems, especially those that affect low-income communities of color. Last year, the office filed suit against Ward 5 businesses that repeatedly spilled toxic oil onto sidewalks streets and into District waterways, and forced a landlord to clean up toxic lead paint. Additionally, OAG has joined numerous multistate lawsuits to stop the Trump administration from rolling back important environmental protections, such as auto emissions standards and Clean Water Act rules.