Prove your humanity

Pennsylvania is still falling short in its efforts to reduce pollution flowing to the Chesapeake Bay, in spite of budgeting millions in new money for clean-up.

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

Pennsylvania isn’t meeting its goals to reduce annual pollution to the bay by 34 million pounds of nitrogen, 531 million pounds of sediment, and 700,000 pounds of phosphorus.

Lawmakers set aside $154 million from the federal American Rescue Plan to create a new Clean Streams Fund, which is meant to help with bay cleanup goals.

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But on Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency said the state’s latest revised Watershed Implementation Plan will miss its nitrogen goal by more than 9 million pounds.

“We are disappointed that the WIP does not see the amount of progress that we were hoping for, so our policy of tough love will continue,” said EPA regional administrator Adam Ortiz.

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

In a letter to the state Department of Environmental Protection, Ortiz noted Pennsylvania’s creation of the Clean Streams Fund and adoption of other best management practices for curbing pollution, but said there must be increased, sustained funding at the state level to improve water quality.

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

The state first submitted the plan in 2019. That one fell 9.8 million pounds short of achieving its nitrogen target. Pennsylvania submitted a draft amended Phase III WIP to EPA on December 30, 2021. EPA published its evaluation of that version on April 18 of this year and gave Pennsylvania 90 days to submit a final amended Phase III WIP. Pennsylvania turned in its final amended plan on July 18.

Ortiz said it’s not a lack of willingness among the commonwealth’s communities or farmers that is causing its pollution issues, but a matter of scale. The bay gets half of its freshwater from the Susquehanna River.

“Nonetheless, there’s no question that there’s more activity, more action, more progress taking place on the ground than ever before,” Ortiz said.

DEP spokeswoman Deborah Klenotic said monitoring in state waterways shows that current efforts are working to cut pollution and that the agency is committed to sustaining and increasing those efforts.

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

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.