Pennsylvania is among Chesapeake Bay watershed states that, under federal law, must reduce pollution going into the bay by 2025.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says the state is not on track to meet its reduction target.
The amended plan Pennsylvania submitted in December 2021 meets 70 percent of its nitrogen reduction target, but it is 9.7 million pounds short of EPA standards, the federal agency says. In addition, the EPA also found there is a phosphorus gap of 6,000 pounds and a sediment gap of 48 million pounds.
Approximately 25,000 miles of streams in Pennsylvania are considered unsuitable for fishing, the EPA noted in a news release.
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The EPA says the state needs to develop manure runoff controls and provide money to farmers so they can start using more environmentally safe practices.
“Pennsylvania has made noteworthy progress in recent years and key partnerships are in place,” said EPA Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Adam Ortiz. “State agencies, counties, farmers, partners and nonprofits are on board and have put in a tremendous effort. What’s missing are improved manure control policies and dependable state funding for agriculture cost-share programs for farmers. These are measures other states have had for a long time.”
Ortiz said some simple strategies to control manure runoff from farms include better fencing to keep animals off-stream and cover crops, to keep soils healthy without the need to add manure. These are things that are already being used in the state, Ortiz said, but not at a large enough scale.
The EPA also says Pennsylvania lacks details on how it will update or develop new programs or fully fund existing state programs.
Pennsylvania has 90 days to submit an improved plan.
More EPA inspections
Starting this week, the EPA says it will step up inspection of farms and municipal stormwater, increase permit oversight and redirect federal funds to other state agencies that could use them more efficiently.
“It’s not unprecedented, but it’s a little unusual, that we take a series of enhanced enforcement and compliance actions in a state that isn’t complying,” Ortiz said. “We’re announcing a series of those measures to step up the scrutiny of pollution sources in Pennsylvania, and we’re looking across the board. Pollution comes from all sorts of places – agriculture is a big contributor, but it’s not the only one.”
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection wrote in a statement that it is “disappointed with EPA’s overall findings.” The department had announced in December $17.4 million in grant funding to support water improvement projects in 33 counties across the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.
“We believe that historically implemented programs and practices are providing positive, cumulative on-the-ground effects, but are not being credited in the Bay model toward Pennsylvania’s planning targets,” the DEP wrote in a statement.
That model is the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program’s computer model simulations of nutrient and sediment pollutant levels, which is how the EPA determines its pollutant reduction targets for states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
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.