By Elizabeth Hardison
Saying that Pennsylvania has repeatedly failed to uphold its commitments to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) has directed Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) to sue Maryland’s neighbor in federal court.
Hogan made the request in a Wednesday letter. He also asks Frosh to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which Hogan says has failed to ensure Pennsylvania’s compliance with a 2014 federal water improvement plan.
“Pennsylvania and the EPA must hold up their end of the [clean-up] bargain,” Hogan wrote. “We have a generational obligation to protect the bay, and we simply cannot fall short of these shared obligations.”
Pennsylvania does not border the Chesapeake Bay, the vast estuary in Maryland and Virginia with headwaters in the Susquehanna River. But it’s the source of half of the bay’s freshwater and much of its pollution.
In 2014, six states and the District of Columbia signed an agreement to restore water quality in the bay by reducing agricultural, industrial and residential runoff by 2025.
Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia had the most aggressive pollution reduction goals, but the Keystone State’s progress has lagged far behind its neighbors.
The Commonwealth currently faces a $324 million funding gap to complete its water improvement plan by 2025.
In his letter, Hogan said the EPA has “made excuses” for Pennsylvania as it fell short of its targets. Federal regulators also appeared unconcerned by the “obvious inadequacy” of Pennsylvania’s water improvement plan for the next five years.
In a brief interview, Frosh said he has sued EPA for failing to prevent cross-state pollution and for drastically scaling back the Waters of the U.S. Rule, enacted by the Obama administration to expand protections of the Clean Water Act. While both those suits address pollution that impacts the Chesapeake Bay, this would be the first suit that directly targets shortcomings of the multi-state agreement to protect the bay.
In a statement Thursday, Kim Coble, executive director of the League of Conservation Voters, applauded Hogan and Frosh for contemplating legal action against Pennsylvania and EPA.
“If EPA continues to abdicate its responsibility to restore the Chesapeake, Marylanders need to know that our elected leaders will respond appropriately,” she said.
The news of the potential lawsuit came on the same day that Pennsylvania lawmakers received a briefing on bay cleanup efforts at the Pennsylvania Farm Show, an annual agricultural convention in Harrisburg.
There, the state senator in charge of environmental legislation told the Pennsylvania Capital-Star that the commonwealth’s chances of meeting the EPA’s 2025 bay cleanup goals “are not likely.”
State Sen. Gene Yaw (R), who chairs the state Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, said Pennsylvania would not create new fees to fund bay conservation efforts, as Maryland and Virginia have.
Yaw also said that “nobody knows what the EPA will do” if Pennsylvania blows past its 2025 pollution reduction deadline.
But as Hogan wrote in his letter, “the EPA currently appears to have no intention of taking the necessary action to ensure Pennsylvania’s compliance with its commitments.”
J.J. Abbott, a spokesman for Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, responded to the lawsuit on Wednesday, telling the Baltimore-Sun it would divert resources from Pennsylvania’s pollution reduction efforts.
He added, “Governor Hogan’s time would be better spent convincing his Republican counterparts in Pennsylvania to support Governor Wolf’s plan” to raise new revenue for environmental projects.
Wolf administration officials who testified at the Senate hearing Wednesday said the governor’s ambitious Restore PA plan could provide crucial funds for water quality projects.
The plan calls for the state to borrow $4.5 billion to fund infrastructure and environmental projects. It would pay the balance back over 20 years with a new tax on natural gas production.
The plan has been met with fierce resistance from Democrats who say a 20-year commitment to natural gas drilling would set Pennsylvania back in the fight against climate change.
Elizabeth Hardison is a reporter with the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, an affiliate of Maryland Matters. She can be reached at at [email protected] Josh Kurtz of Maryland Matters contributed to this report.