DEP: Chesapeake Bay Plan Offers Fairness, Options

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen A. McGinty appeared before a Senate panel on Feb. 21 to outline Pennsylvania's Chesapeake Bay Compliance Plan.

The state's plan, she told the Senate Republican Policy Committee, will allow Pennsylvania to meet federal obligations in a manner that is fair, yet provides sources of nutrient pollution with cost-effective options on how to achieve reductions.

If the state cannot meet the goals set forth by 2010, Pennsylvania faces the prospect of much more stringent requirements from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"The commonwealth's obligations to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are derived from a federal mandate under the Clean Water Act," said McGinty. "In working to meet those requirements, the state has devised a compliance plan that achieves reductions in the levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediments flowing into the basin's waterways.

"Pennsylvania must achieve the mandatory nutrient reductions for point sources and non-point sources alike, while providing new compliance flexibility. Although there is no doubt that meeting those federal requirements will be a challenge to Pennsylvania, it is also the case that our compliance plan is fair to all sources of bay pollution. This strategy was formulated after more than 100 stakeholder meetings across the state and included specific initiatives to address reductions from point sources and non-point sources in proportion to their relative contributions to the nutrient pollution of the bay.

"The federal requirements that are driving Pennsylvania's obligations are very real and very specific. If the commonwealth does not implement its compliance plan now, EPA is obligated to dictate a compliance regime to the commonwealth through a bay-wide total maximum daily load and EPA-dictated sewage treatment plant permits."

The secretary's testimony outlined how the compliance plan includes mandatory reductions from point sources, like sewage treatment plants, and nonpoint sources, such as agricultural and stormwater run-off.

With regards to point sources, the secretary described how Pennsylvania's approach does not mandate sewage treatment plant upgrades, only nutrient reductions. She further stated that the permits now being issued to the largest plants in the watershed largely reflect the pollution reduction plans offered by the plants in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association.

"The department agrees that compliance with our federal obligations will be costly," said McGinty, "but we have provided sewage treatment plants with the option of using our trading program as a means to meet the new federal requirements. Other options include sharing the cost of a single nutrient upgrade with neighboring communities, septic system offsets and spray irrigation. Incurring capital costs to upgrade is the choice of the facility, and a phased approach to reaching compliance is being implemented."

McGinty told the committee how Pennsylvania's Chesapeake Compliance Plan has placed a proportionate burden on nonpoint sources, and that the state's farmers and real estate developers are stepping up to the challenge.

Pennsylvania has met its riparian forest buffer goal of 600 miles by 2010 ahead of schedule—leading all bay watershed states having restored 3,212 miles of buffers over a 35-foot-wide area. Additionally, the commonwealth has enacted extensive water quality regulations instituting sweeping changes for farmers that have resulted in more than 5,000 farms with mandated nutrient management plans, thus increasing the number of highly regulated farms in Pennsylvania by 400 percent.

"There is no question that a major investment in Pennsylvania's infrastructure is needed statewide," said McGinty. "Recent steep cuts by Congress and the Bush administration to the federal Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which has been a significant part of our water quality improvement efforts for two decades, erode our ability to tackle these serious environmental and economic infrastructure challenges facing all of our communities, as well as the Chesapeake Bay.

Pennsylvania's share of the state revolving fund program has been cut by nearly half in the past three years, down $30 million to $27 million, while the president's fiscal year 2009 budget calls for another $330 million in cuts to EPA—largely aimed at wastewater projects. The president's FY 2009 budget requested only $555 million for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which would be the lowest level of funding for the program in its history if enacted.

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