Wednesday, July 29, 2020

EPA Finds PA Did Not Meet Targets For Reducing Water Pollution In Chesapeake Bay Watershed Area; Must Identify Funding Sources For 2020-21

On July 29, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
issued its evaluations of state actions in meeting 2018-19 milestones for reducing nutrient and sediment pollution in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and an assessment for the 2020-21 milestone period.
“EPA will continue to fulfill its partnership role in assessing, supporting and overseeing commitments by the Bay states to put practices in place by 2025 to fully restore the Bay,” said EPA Regional Administrator Cosmo Servidio.  “We have confidence that the Bay states will review the feedback in our evaluations and adjust their plans and milestone commitments, as necessary.”

The evaluation of Pennsylvania’s efforts found the state failed to meet its 2018-19 milestones for nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment-- no surprise.

Among the key areas EPA said Pennsylvania needed to address during the 2020-21 milestone period and beyond, were--

-- Funding: Establish a funding source or combination of funding sources for implementing Pennsylvania’s Watershed Implementation Plan; 

-- 9.8 Million Pound Gap: Identify strategies to close the remaining 9.8 million pound nitrogen gap if County Clean Water Plans do not close that gap;

-- Stormwater Reductions: Detail activities that will achieve nutrient and sediment reduction from developed lands not subject to the requirements of the MS4 stormwater permit which accounts for 70 percent of the reductions for that sector;

-- Specific Strategies: Provide specific details on actions, strategies and programs expected during 2020-21 and how those actions support the increased best management practice implement called for the PA WIP III Plan; and

-- Specific Timelines: Provide specific actions and timelines for the 2020-21 milestone period for milestones that only have expected timelines of December 2025 or are labeled as ongoing.

EPA pledged in its evaluations to work with each of the Bay states to develop specific oversight and assistance activities to support implementation efforts, including funding, technical assistance and analysis, training and regulatory reviews.

The funding and technical assistance, for example, will support Pennsylvania as it works to strengthen its Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) by 2021 and close the gap in its 2025 commitments.   

As part of its oversight responsibilities, EPA has taken steps with Pennsylvania to ensure funding is being spent efficiently and expeditiously in the most effective areas for pollution reduction.

Since the release of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL in 2010, EPA and its federal partners have provided sustained assistance to the Bay states to support their restoration actions – from wastewater treatment plant upgrades to agricultural best management practices to stormwater control.

EPA will continue to commit staff, contractual and funding resources to support implementation of the states’ Phase III WIPs and two-year milestones.

In its oversight role, EPA will meet frequently with the Bay states and will report to the Chesapeake Bay Program partnership and the public on the states’ success in meeting their goals.  EPA is recommending that Pennsylvania report quarterly on its progress.

Click Here for the complete evaluation.

PA’s Plan Falls Short

In December, EPA found Pennsylvania’s Watershed Implementation Plan falls 25 percent short of meeting the necessary nitrogen reductions and fails to identify funding to implement its plan.

On its face, the final Plan achieves about 73 percent of the 34.13 million pounds of nitrogen reductions and over 120 percent of the 756,000 pounds of phosphorus reductions Pennsylvania needs to meet the 2025 goal.

EPA said, "Pennsylvania’s current planned efforts do not achieve the nitrogen Phase III WIP planning target, nor does the plan explain how or when additional reductions from the remaining County Action Plans will be incorporated into the broader plan to achieve the nitrogen planning target."

EPA said Pennsylvania should “...seize upon the stakeholder momentum, reconsidering the sector workgroup recommendations, and develop numeric 2020 – 2021 milestones that are based on implementing programs and practices to meet 100 percent of the planning target for nitrogen by 2025."  Read more here.

In reaction to the 9.8 million pound gap, DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell insisted the shortfall was the result of a problem with the computer model estimates used to track pollution reduction efforts. He said the model did not capture the full extent of Pennsylvania’s activities.

“We have a model gap,” McDonnell said. “We do not believe we will have an actual gap. We believe there are practices currently undercounted or not counted in terms of the credits received for Pennsylvania.”  Read more here.

EPA again gave Pennsylvania high marks for outreach and community efforts in developing the plan, for its county-based planning efforts and implementation for the PA Ag Conservation Stewardship Program starting in January.  Read more here.

Spotlight On Funding

On January 8, the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee put a spotlight on the resources needed to implement Pennsylvania’s Clean Water Plan to meet Chesapeake Bay cleanup obligations at a special public briefing held in conjunction with the PA Farm Show in Harrisburg

The Committee heard from representatives of the interstate Chesapeake Bay Commission, PA Farm Bureau, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation-PA, the departments of Agriculture and Environmental Protection and the State Conservation Commission which administers programs supporting county conservation districts.

There were three things participants agreed on--

-- We Have A Credible Plan: The Phase III Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan submitted to EPA showing how Pennsylvania would meet its water quality cleanup obligations was built from the ground up, based on significant local input and buy-in and represents the most credible plan ever developed by the state.

-- We Need More Resources: Many more resources were needed to implement the stakeholder-backed recommendations in the Plan, including help for farmers to install conservation practices, for communities to deal with issues like stormwater and to provide incentives for installing riparian stream buffers.

The Phase III Plan estimated a funding need of $324 million per year for six years to implement that Plan.

-- Momentum: As a result of the stakeholder process that was used to develop the WIP III Plan and other issues, there is now momentum and energy building to address clean water issues in the General Assembly and across the state.

At the start of the briefing, Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), Majority Chair of the Committee and the incoming Chair of the interstate Chesapeake Bay Commission said--  “We have more attention on clean water issues now in the General Assembly than we’ve had at any time I can remember.

“I do know one thing, if we have clean water in Pennsylvania, the Bay will take care of itself.”

In the announcement of the briefing, Sen. Yaw said, “Based on extensive testing and undertakings, we know where the problems are in the watershed.  Without question, we face significant challenges in meeting the EPA TMDL requirements. 

“We just need the time and, most importantly, the resources to address those problem areas.”  Read more here.

Funding ‘Isn’t Going To Happen’

After the briefing was over,  Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming) who serves as Majority Chair of the Committee, told the PA Capital-Star-- “raising that much money [$324 million to implement the recommendations in PA’s Clean Water Plan to meet its Bay obligations] through new fees or taxes “isn’t going to happen.” 

He added, even if the state generated more than $300 million in new taxes and fees by 2025, “I don’t know that we’d have the wherewithal to spend it.”

In a final comment to PA Capital-Star, Sen. Yaw said-- “The chances of us meeting the 2025 suggested [goals] are not likely.” 

Sen. Yaw said he thinks it’s more likely Pennsylvania will get a slap on the wrist from EPA for not meeting its Chesapeake Bay obligations-- “nobody knows what the EPA will do.”  Read more here.

On January 24, 2017, Sen. Yaw and other Pennsylvania members of the Chesapeake Bay Commission wrote to all members of the General Assembly putting a spotlight on the need to address the state’s water pollution cleanup problem and suggested creating a dedicated Clean Water Fund for Pennsylvania. Read more here.

State Budget

On January 28, Gov. Wolf again proposed the $4.5 billion Restore Pennsylvania initiative funded by a new severance tax on natural gas production which was opposed last year and again this year by Senate and House Republicans.

It included major funding to address water quality, stormwater and flood reduction needs, including the Chesapeake Bay obligations.  Read more here.

On February 4, Gov. Wolf proposed $1 million in new funding for 10 new staff to implement the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation plan and restoring the cuts to environmental restoration funding made in the FY 2019-20 state budget. Read more here.

Fast Start - Then The Virus

DEP’s new Chesapeake Bay Office Director-- Jill Whitcomb-- is looking forward to using the high level of energy and stakeholder buy-in generated in developing Pennsylvania’s Chesapeake Bay Phase 3 Watershed Implementation Plan to move quickly on implementation.

Whitcomb said her background working for a county conservation district prepared her well to take on her current challenge.  Read more here.

If fact, DEP and its partners set in motion a whole array of actions called for in the Plan to hit the ground running.

Then in March the coronavirus effectively shut down or reduced many of those activities in the field during the critical spring planting season.  Read more here.

But, to the credit of lots of local groups, some creativity and tenacity, a percentage of those projects were accomplished.  

For example, volunteers with the Lebanon Valley Conservancy planted more than 750 trees in riparian buffers.

Critical Lancaster and York counties continued to implement their county clean water plans as best they could, and a handful of new counties moved forward with their county clean water planning effort.  Read more here.

Lawsuit Threatened

On May 18, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and its partners filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its failure to require Pennsylvania and New York to develop implementation plans that will achieve the 2025 Bay restoration goals.

Partners in the filing include the Maryland Watermen’s Association, Bobby Whitescarver (a farmer from Swoope, Virginia), and Anne Arundel County, Maryland.

The Attorneys General in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia also filed a notice that they intend to sue EPA as well.  Read more here.

5 Month Budget

On May 28, because of budgeting uncertainty caused by the coronavirus, the state passed a five-month FY 2020-21 budget that pushed all the hard decisions about making up a $4 to $5 billion state budget deficit to after the election in November.

No provisions were made for additional funding in the stopgap budget.  Read more here.

Raid On Dedicated Funds

On July 1, new House Speaker Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) said the first place Republicans will look first to fill deep budget holes is dedicated funds, many of which are used to fund farm conservation and environmental restoration projects. Read more here.

House Republicans passed House Bill 1822 that freezes state funding for county conservation districts, local farm conservation and environmental restoration projects. Lancaster Clean Water Partners said it would be ‘devastating’ to their efforts. Read more here.

House Republicans also moved House Bill 2004 which allows the reallocation of the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund which is used, in part, for permanent land conservation initiatives.  Read more here.

2020 Implementation Steps

At the July 20 meeting of PA Chesapeake Bay Implementation Plan Team Meeting, DEP, Agriculture, DCNR and their many partners outlined the steps they were able to take during the first six months of 2020 to implement the Watershed Plan.

Those steps included--

-- Farm Excellence Grants: Dept. of Agriculture solicited applications for Farm Conservation Excellence Grants in Lancaster and York Counties.  Read more here.

-- Organic Farming Grants: Dept. of Agriculture accepted applications to help farmers transition to organic farming.  Read more here.

-- Penn State Farm Survey: Penn State sent a new survey to farmers in Lancaster, York, Franklin & Adams counties to document conservation practices.  Read more here.

-- Stream Habitat Grants: Fish & Boat Commission accepting applications for $100,000 stream habitat improvement in Lancaster, York counties.  Read more here.

-- Wildlife Habitat Grants: EPA, NFWF announced $2.4 million for projects to improve streams in the Pennsylvania portion of the Bay Watershed. Read more here.

-- Additional EPA Funding: EPA provided an additional $3.7 million in funding for farm conservation practices in the Bay Watershed.  Read more here.

-- PennVEST Funding: PennVEST loaned a Centre County farmer $800,000 to install farm conservation practices.  Read more here. And funded additional nonpoint source pollution control measures.  Read more here.

-- Keystone Tree Partnership: Keystone 10 Million Trees Partnership invests $2.6 million in 710,000 trees for planting in the Bay Watershed and across the state.  Read more here.

-- Keystone Tree Fund: On July 1 PennDOT began giving drivers and vehicle owners the option of donating $3 to the Keystone Tree Fund to fund DCNR riparian buffer planting programs.  Read more here.

-- Fertilizer Bill: The Senate passed Senate Bill 915 regulating turf use of fertilizer and sent it to the House where it died last session.  Read more here.

-- Bay Storymap: DEP released a new storymap showing the benefits of improving water quality in the state’s part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed  Read more here.

-- Climate Impact Report: New DEP Climate Impact Assessment Report finds the livestock industry is likely to grow in the state making it more difficult to meet water quality cleanup goals.  Read more here.

For more information on how Pennsylvania plans to meet its Chesapeake Bay cleanup obligations, visit DEP’s PA’s Phase 3 Watershed Implementation Plan webpage.         

Click Here for a summary of the steps the Plan recommends.

[Posted: July 29, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

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