CBF and Allies Begin Legal Action to Force EPA to Reduce Pollution

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), the Virginia State Waterman’s Association, the Maryland Watermen’s Association, the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen’s Association, former Maryland Governor Harry Hughes, retired Maryland Senator Bernie Fowler, former Virginia legislator and Natural Resources Secretary Tayloe Murphy, and former Washington D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams today notified the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that they intend to go to federal court to force EPA to require pollution reduction in the Chesapeake Bay. Today’s notice letter is required for any citizen lawsuit against EPA to enforce the Clean Water Act.

“Over the last 25 years Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts have been littered with promises broken and commitments unfulfilled,” said CBF President William C. Baker. “It is time that EPA either step up to the plate, or be held legally accountable for its failure to comply with the law and fulfill the commitment to reduce pollution sufficiently to have the Bay removed from the federal “dirty waters” list by 2010.”

“When I signed the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement, I believed that the goal of removing the Bay and its tidal tributaries from the Clean Water Act impaired waters list by 2010 was a binding commitment of all the signatories including the United States,” Anthony Williams said.

EPA has admitted that with current programs and policies in place, the goal will not be achieved. Officials are now discussing pushing the Bay clean-up goal back another 12 years.

“There have now been three agreements and three failures, and while government may be well intentioned, more delay is unacceptable,” Bernie Fowler said. “It hurts my heart that we may be standing by at the deathwatch of this national treasure.”

CBF and its allies are calling on the EPA Administrator to establish a deadline of 2010 to have programs and funding in place to achieve the pollution reduction goal, to achieve 80 percent of the goal by 2012, and to complete the task by 2015. In addition there must be serious consequences for missing those deadlines.

“If the signatories to the numerous Chesapeake Bay agreements, especially the 2000 agreement, are not held accountable for the commitments made in those agreements, the Bay will never be saved,” Tayloe Murphy said. “Contracts are made to be performed, not ignored.”

Bay scientists have determined that in 2008 the Bay suffered the fourth worst “dead zone” since 1985. Pollution is also a major factor in the decline of the Chesapeake Bay’s crab population, which is near historic lows. As a result, Maryland and Virginia have had to severely limit the commercial crab harvest, putting many watermen out of work.

“The continuing degradation of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries has reached the point that it is imperative that dramatic measures be taken to improve water quality,” said Virginia Watermen’s Association President Ken Smith. “Over the last 35 years, the number of working watermen in Virginia has dropped from 8,000 to less than 3,000. Pollution is robbing us of our livelihood, our way of life, and the ability of our children to carry on a proud tradition.”

It’s not just watermen who are affected. When the broader impact on restaurants, crab processors, wholesalers, grocers, and watermen is all added up, the decline of crabs in the Bay meant a cumulative loss to Maryland and Virginia of more than 4,400 jobs between 1998 and 2006 (the most recent year for which this economic data is available). That doesn’t include 2007 and 2008, both poor years for crab harvests.

“Economic health and the health of the environment go hand in hand,” said former Maryland Governor Harry Hughes. “What is needed now is a sense of urgency, not more delay.”

The legal action targets the EPA because it is the lead agency in enforcement of the Clean Water Act. It is being taken now to offer the EPA one last opportunity to take responsibility for the water quality commitments made in the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement. If EPA fails to respond, the issue will be front and center for the next administration.

“We are doing this because we’re backed into a corner. We’ve all been preaching to clean the bay up, with no results,” Larry Simns said. “We’re at a crucial point here, unless we do something now we’re going to lose the Bay completely.”

source: Chesapeake Bay Foundation press release

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