Prove your humanity

Federal environmental regulators are agreeing to work harder to stop pollution from flowing out of Pennsylvania to the Chesapeake Bay.

It’s the result of a 2020 lawsuit brought by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation as well as Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC. The suit claimed the EPA violated the Clean Water Act by letting Pennsylvania move forward with inadequate plans.

Pennsylvania has been lagging behind other bay states in meeting clean-up goals set for 2025.

Under the settlement, EPA must use existing authority to investigate farming and urban stormwater issues, help the state clean up those areas, and issue penalties where appropriate. EPA must also post all findings online.

“This settlement agreement really puts things in writing and makes sure that we have clear deadlines, and so we think that that makes it a significant moment today,” CBF President Hilary Falk said during a news conference Thursday.

Pennsylvania is not a part of the settlement agreement.

Jon Mueller, the foundation’s Vice President for Litigation, said the EPA already has the authority to carry out the actions listed in the agreement.

“Whether that all comes true, we don’t know. But we believe that there are mechanisms built into this agreement that requires EPA to report to us–and the public–so that we can monitor its progress,” Mueller said.

Mueller said they can go back to court if they feel EPA is not meeting its commitments.

EPA voluntarily stepped up oversight in Pennsylvania last year.

The state has updated its most recent clean up plan three times, but each version has failed to meet the commonwealth’s pollution reduction goal.

Neil Shader, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, said the agency is reviewing the settlement and the state is committed to working with partners at all levels to clean up waterways and the bay.

“We have seen both our Watershed Implementation Plan and the historic $220 million Clean Streams Fund serve as catalysts for action to restore and protect the waters in our local rivers and streams, and the Chesapeake Bay,” Shader said.

Falk called the Clean Streams Fund an “important down payment” but said more state investment is needed, especially to help farmers stop pollution from escaping their land.

The EPA did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among The Allegheny Front, WPSU, WITF and WHYY to cover the commonwealth's energy economy.