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Oct 012010

From Green Right Now Reports

The Environmental Protection Agency is threatening to hit five mid-Atlantic states with new rules that could raise sewer bills and limit construction in a large-scale crackdown in the ongoing fight over pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.

The move represents the most aggressive action in the 27-year history of the Chesapeake cleanup. When states previously failed to meet deadlines in 2000 and 2010, the agency essentially did nothing. The new deadline is 2025, but the EPA served notice that it will not tolerate states dragging their feet in making improvements.

Virginia, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Delaware and New York are in the EPA crosshairs. Those states combine to account for more than 70 percent of the pollution that causes “dead zones” in the bay. The agency informed the states that their cleanup plans contained “serious deficiencies” and threatened to force them to make up the difference with costly new measures.

While some wondered if the possible expense amounted to a risky move by an increasingly unpopular administration, environmentalists lauded the news as a possible turning point.

“There’s good reason to hope that, decades from now, we’ll look back on (the announcement) as a watershed moment in the protection of the bay,” said Rena Steinzor, a University of Maryland law professor.

Local governments, however, expressed concern that they will have to raise taxes or set new rules that could limit development and place a greater financial burden on farmers.

“I think everyone will jump on a legal reaction if it comes out that the sewer plants will have to go a lot lower” in the pollution they emit, said John Brosious, deputy director of an association of Pennsylvania cities and towns.

Currently, nitrogen and phosphorus wash downstream in treated sewage, fertilizer and animal manure. In the water, they fuel unnatural algae blooms, which in turn consume the oxygen that fish, crabs and oysters need to survive.

Since 1983, federal and state governments have spent more than $5 billion on the problem, but the EPA did not punish states that failed to deliver on promises. States cracked down on sewage plants, but generally shied away from requiring more expensive changes on farms and from urban storm-sewer systems.

In those 27 years, nitrogen has been cut by only about half the amount required, and a recent study revealed that phosphorus pollution was rising, not going down, in eight of nine major Chesapeake tributaries.