Local TMDL planning continues despite challenges
Local officials are preparing to comply with a U.S. Environmental Protection Administration mandate to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, even as challenges to the plan are mounted in both Congress and the courts.
In January, the American Farm Bureau Federation filed a suit against the EPA to stop implementation of a plan to restrict the levels of nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment that enter the watershed. The federation argues the EPA overstepped its authority in establishing a “total maximum daily load” for the bay.
“The EPA, with support of the Department of Justice, plans to move right ahead with the TMDL and the development of the implementation plans,” said Rick Parrish, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. Parrish was one of several speakers at a League of Women Voters forum on the topic Tuesday.
Another threat to the plan is a budget amendment introduced by Virginia Congressman Robert Goodlatte, R-Roanoke, to prevent any federal funds from being used to implement the TMDL. The House of Representatives approved the measure this past weekend, which must also be passed by the Senate and signed by President Barack Obama.
Parrish said the agricultural community, which feels it will bear a disproportionate share of the efforts to reduce pollution, is driving both efforts.
“In truth, the responsibility is going to be placed on all of us,” said Parrish.
The EPA approved Virginia’s watershed implementation plan in December. The next phase is the development of local plans that will spell out precisely what steps will be taken to reduce pollution.
If targets are not eventually met, the EPA could have many enforcement options, including denying permit renewals for wastewater treatment plants and municipal stormwater systems.
Many in the agricultural community have said it is not up to the government to tell them to install fences to keep livestock out of streams.
“Farmers and ranchers already are taking real, on-the-ground actions every day to improve water quality,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman in a press release issued when the suit was filed.
“Agriculture feels they’re being unfairly treated, wastewater treatment plants feel they’re being asked to do a lot,” said Mark Graham, the county’s director of community development. “I’m local government and I feel like I’m being unfairly treated.”
Graham said there are many questions that need to be answered as local plans are developed.
“For example, in Albemarle County, we have a large number of regional stormwater basins that are already treating stormwater,” Graham said. “None of that has been captured at this point and nobody’s recognized that those measures are in place.”
“Our choice of fertilizers, our choice of how much lawn to have, our choice of how to build our driveways, all of those kinds of things are very important,” Middleton said.
Parrish said efforts to reduce pollution have been working. In 1985, 102 million pounds of nitrogen made its way into the bay. By 2008, that number had fallen to 72.8 million pounds.
“The bad news is that we have to make almost that much of a reduction again to get to where we need to be for the bay to be restored,” Parrish said. “What we’re talking about is restoring it to an acceptable level where people can swim in the bay and not get sick, and where fish and oysters and crabs can thrive and not be threatened with elimination.”
Regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit and Goodlatte’s budget amendment, other steps are being taken to achieve the general goal of reducing pollution. A bill (HB1831) that outlaws the use of phosphorous in fertilizers sold for home use has passed both houses of the General Assembly.
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