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Six Major Cities Add Their Support To Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Plan

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"Six Major Cities Add Their Support To Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Plan"

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An algal bloom in Virginia's York River

An algal bloom in Virginia’s York River.

CREDIT: Chesapeake Bay Foundation

The Environmental Protection Agency has won some supporters in the fight over the agency’s plan to clean up the heavily polluted Chesapeake Bay, helping to push back against the argument of 21 outside states that the plan constitutes EPA overreach.

Six major U.S. cities — New York, Baltimore, Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and San Francisco — filed an amicus brief this week in support of the EPA-led Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan, which imposes limits on the level of nutrients that can enter the bay each day. Four Florida conservation groups also submitted a briefin support of the cleanup plan, adding additional out-of-state support to a contest that for the past few months has been between the six Chesapeake Bay states and the 21 states, backed by major agriculture groups, that oppose the plan.

The cities argue in their brief that the Chesapeake Bay’s Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for nutrients — most of which come from area farms — is an “equitable and effective approach” for improving the health of the bay. They also argue that ignoring the non-point sources of pollution in the bay (pollution that’s a result of things like agricultural runoff, rather than from clearly identifiable sources such as smokestacks) is essential to restoring the bay, and that only focusing on point sources would be unfair to cities that have already invested in reducing point-source water pollution.

“Fundamentally, in order for TMDLs to improve water quality effectively, EPA must be allowed to establish load allocations based upon the entire range of sources contributing to impairment, as EPA did in promulgating the Chesapeake Bay TMDL,” the states write.

The battle over the cleanup plan began when the American Farm Bureau, a powerful agriculture group, took the EPA to court in 2010, claiming the EPA didn’t have the power to restrict the amount of pollutants that enter the bay. The Farm Bureau also claimed that an EPA-led cleanup plan in the Chesapeake Bay meant that the agency could later implement similar plans in states along the Mississippi River, which flows through the heart of agriculture country (and, like the Chesapeake Bay, has been plagued by dead zones for years). The lawsuit failed in 2013, but the group appealed early this year, with 21 state Attorney Generals — nearly all of whom represent states outside of the Chesapeake Bay region — submitting their amicus brief in support of the Farm Bureau’s claims in February.

The Florida environmental groups linked the Chesapeake Bay’s nutrient pollution to that of their own state, saying that they have for decades fought to get Florida to restrict the nutrient pollution that flows into Florida’s waters. That pollution, the groups write, has had grave consequences on the Florida ecosystem — “hundreds of dead manatees, thousands of dead seabirds, tens of thousands of dead fish, and water too toxic for humans to even touch.” It is required under the Clean Water Act, the groups say, that EPA step in and create a plan for pollution like this — without that federal oversight, it’s rare for states to succeed in limiting pollution themselves.

“The heart of the Clean Water Act is the principle that the Nation’s waters cannot be used — directly or indirectly — to dispose of waste,” the groups write. “This appeal [by the Farm Bureau] represents a challenge to that principle.”

The deadline to submit amicus briefs for the appeal is April 28. In addition to the six cities and four Florida environmental groups, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has filed a brief in support of the cleanup plan, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is circulating a petition urging New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign on in support of the TMDL.

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