Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Chesapeake Bay Foundation fighting back in court

ANNAPOLIS — Environmental groups led by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation announced Wednesday that they are asking a federal judge to allow them to join a court fight over Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts.

The bay advocacy and other groups said they are seeking to side with the federal Environmental Protection Agency in the dispute with farm groups.

The American Farm Bureau Federation sued the EPA in January over the stricter federally led effort, and other groups have since joined the challenge. Critics say it is too far-reaching and will burden states with huge costs.

The foundation says it was filing a motion to intervene in U.S. District Court in Harrisburg, Pa. The foundation, which has sued the EPA over the slow pace of restoration efforts, said it was being joined by groups including the National Wildlife Federation, the Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy, Defenders of Wildlife, Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, and the Jefferson County Public Service District, a West Virginia county sewer agency.

“Their motive is profit. Our motive is clean water and the protection of human health,” said Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s William Baker.

Environmental groups gathered for the announcement said it was a battle of corporate interests against hundreds of thousands individuals interested in restoring the bay.

“No one industry has the right to destroy the bay,” said Timothy Junkin, director of the Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy.

The EPA’s strategy puts everyone in the six state bay watershed on a “pollution diet” with Total Maximum Daily Load allocations divided over regions for how much sediment and runoff can come from each area. Runoff of pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizer, auto and power plant emissions spawn oxygen-robbing algae blooms once it reaches the bay, creating dead zones.

Jon Mueller, the foundation’s vice president for litigation, said the challenge was based on three arguments — that the EPA lacks authority, the science behind the strategy is flawed, and the public did not have enough opportunity to comment. Mueller said all of the claims lack merit and the foundation was seeking the opportunity to convince the court.

To join the case, the foundation attorney said the criteria are that the motion is timely, the groups have an interest in the case and whether those interests will be adequately represented by the government.

Mueller said the last is the toughest to prove, but the groups feel their interests are distinct from the government’s and they should be allowed to join the case.

The government is not a rate payer, for example, Mueller said, noting the interest of Jefferson County Public Service District.

“What ag wants to do is say our part of the budget should be changed,” Mueller said.

If that happens, others will have to cut more to meet the strategy’s reduction goals, which is why groups such as the Jefferson County Public Service District are seeking to intervene.

Mueller said he expected other ratepayer groups would eventually become involved in the court battle.

Junkin said agriculture groups are fighting back because the strategy is making everyone sacrifice and is a model for efforts in other waterways nationwide.

“They realize for the first time they might have to sacrifice along with everyone else,” Junkin said. “It’s a very, very important battle.”