Wednesday, August 18, 2010

CBF Outlines Plan To Help PA Meet Federal Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Standards

Matt Ehrhart, Executive Director Pennsylvania Office of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, today outlined a plan to help Pennsylvania meet federal standards to cleanup the Chesapeake Bay and the Commonwealth's 19,000 miles of streams and rivers that do not meet federal Clean Water Act water quality standards in testimony before the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committees during Ag Progress Days near State College.
At this same time, CBF provided details of the Bay cleanup plan to the Watershed Implementation Plan work group formed by the Department of Environmental Protection.
“Substantial progress has been achieved by the farming community in reducing pollution to our local streams, the Susquehanna River, and the Chesapeake Bay. Indeed, Pennsylvania agriculture has reduced its share of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment loads to the Bay more than any other sector. Nevertheless, we still have a considerable way to go in the effort to bring all farms into compliance, restore our watersheds, and remove over 19,000 miles of streams from the PA list of impaired waters.
“By the end of 2010 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalizes a Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL, for the Chesapeake Bay which will affect all Pennsylvania waterways that flow to the Bay. This TMDL or “pollution diet” will allocate numeric pollution caps for nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment for each sector – primarily wastewater treatment plants, urban/suburban runoff, and agriculture.
Not Just A Bay Issue
“This is not just a Chesapeake Bay issue. TMDLs are already being applied to many of these streams. The fact is that Pennsylvania is legally bound to reduce pollution levels necessary to achieve applicable water quality standards both here and downstream of the Commonwealth. Most of the steps we must take to fix the Bay are steps we must take to fix our local streams.
“This Bay TMDL differs from past efforts; there is greater accountability and there are consequences for failure. Pennsylvania and the other signatories to the Chesapeake Bay Agreement will be required to achieve two year milestones as part of EPA-approved Watershed Implementation Plans that are subject to EPA approval. If the states fall behind and fail to take corrective action, they face consequences from EPA that could include tighter (and increasingly expensive) permit limits on wastewater treatment plants and industry, requirements that more businesses get permits, and loss of federal funds.
“Obviously, the timing of the TMDL is not ideal given the recession, the budget crisis, and the multitude of other pressing needs facing the Commonwealth. Nevertheless, we can no longer put off the tough decisions and policy choices. In the absence of a Pennsylvania plan with the necessary funding and programmatic steps to ensure success, solutions will be imposed upon us.
Resources To Meet Commitments
“There is intense pressure to continually cut more and more funding to programs, and the budget situation is only likely to worsen in the coming year. Unfortunately, past years of flat funding combined with recent budget cuts have left Conservation Districts and DEP less able to assist farmers, developers, and urban/suburban residents and enforce the Commonwealth’s existing laws at the very time we need to accelerate implementation and adherence to regulations. While we recognize that there must be sacrifice in every program supported by the state, these are not optional programs but legal obligations under the federal Clean Water Act and the PA Clean Streams Law.
There are several opportunities to help Pennsylvania meet our goals and the EPA requirements:
-- Stormwater Management: A revised and updated state stormwater management plan (Act 167) could be used as the fundamental tool to achieve compliance with the stormwater-related requirements of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, as well as local TMDLs;
-- Water Infrastructure: The State Water Plan (Act 220) states that the legislature: “Clearly authorize by legislation, regulation, or policy the creation and operation of local Authorities, Utilities, or Management Districts and/or other sustainable funding sources that enable entities to collect fees and generate revenues dedicated to planning, constructing, monitoring, maintaining, improving, expanding, operating, inspecting and repairing public and private stormwater management infrastructure.” To date, no such action has been taken by the legislature but we believe it is a vitally important to do so;
-- Stormwater Planning: House Bill 1390 (Freeman-D-Lehigh), commonly referred to as the Integrated Water Resources Act, would set a framework for a more consistent, coordinated, and comprehensive approach to stormwater management in the Commonwealth.
-- Agriculture: On the agricultural front, consider that Conservation Districts help deliver federal farm conservation funds, which the last Farm Bill increased substantially for Pennsylvania under the most recent federal Farm Bill, specifically to accelerate the Chesapeake Bay clean up. These are funds provided to the Commonwealth that not only improve our waterways, but support good jobs in construction and engineering. We simply cannot afford to leave any of these limited conservation funds unspent because we don’t have the people in place to deliver them.
-- Farm Conservation Tax Credit: The REAP state tax credit program, now in its fourth year and facing even greater demand from the farm community, is a very small but critically important tax credit program. In the first two years the $10 million cap for the program was exceeded by applications almost immediately. The program has been cut to less than half despite the fact that farmers match the program with their own funds.
“Finally, the federal Chesapeake Clean Water Act (SB 1816), currently under consideration in Congress, could bring much needed funding to Pennsylvania. The Act will provide critical funding for stormwater upgrades, agricultural technical assistance and create a new region-wide trading program that could lower the costs of reducing pollution and provide a potential revenue stream for farmers.”
A complete copy of the testimony is available online as well as a copy of the detailed plan submitted to DEP's Watershed Improvement Plan work group.

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