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EPA assesses states’ Chesapeake restoration plans

The Environmental Protection Agency is urging New York to submit its overdue state plan for cutting pollution that flows into Chesapeake Bay, part of an effort by all six bay watershed states and the District of Columbia, a top EPA official said Thursday.

EPA Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin spoke to reporters about the agency’s assessment of plans submitted by the other states and the District to reduce pollution washing downstream into the Chesapeake. Garvin said New York has yet to submit a plan.

“If either they don’t get something to us in the very near future, and/or if that’s not sufficient, then we’ll have to consider what federal activities might have to happen,” Garvin said in a conference call.

The EPA said in April that it had received a draft but New York missed a deadline for filing its final plan. A spokeswoman for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation said at the time that the department had asked for a 30-day extension, but did not give a reason for the delay.

Steps the EPA can take include requiring additional pollution reductions from federally regulated sources, prohibiting additional discharges, redirecting grants and revising water quality standards.

Lori Severino, a spokeswoman for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, said the state “anticipates completing its evaluation and the remaining elements of this second round of planning soon.”

The spokeswoman said the state was evaluating options to protect the bay as well as the state’s municipal and agricultural interests, adding that a range of cost-effective programs are being assessed to restore the Chesapeake while maximizing benefits to local water resources.

The plans are the second submitted under a new federally led restoration strategy and include how the six bay states will achieve reductions on the local level. In addition to New York, the other bay states are Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.

Garvin said the federal agency was working with Pennsylvania to learn more about how it planned to achieve stormwater runoff reduction that he described as “pretty ambitious.”

“We’re still working with them to figure out how they are actually going to accomplish it, and so based on that we feel that there’s still more work to be done,” Garvin said.

The administrator said the plan calls for 40 percent to 50 percent reductions in urban and suburban stormwater runoff, a growing source of pollution in the bay watershed. EPA spokesman Tom Wenz said the agency would take action if the issue is not addressed.

Amanda Witman, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, said stormwater runoff reduction efforts may be undercounted currently and the state is using EPA funding to improve tracking of those efforts.

Virginia has a stormwater plan “that we think is going to address the issues if it’s implemented,” Garvin said.

West Virginia had improved its plan and addressed the issues raised by the EPA. Maryland’s plan, meanwhile, is expected achieve water improvement goals when fully implemented, the EPA said.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, an environmental group that had sued the EPA over the pace of restoration efforts, said reductions so far are largely due to upgrades of wastewater treatment plants and improved agricultural practices. Local efforts are now needed to “address long-standing pollution problems from cities, suburbs, and some farms that continue to hold back recovery.”