The Chesapeake Bay is an ecosystem in peril. Pollutants from animal farms, urban and suburban development, sewage treatment plants, and coal-fired power plants are deposited into the Bay causing algae blooms that consume the dissolved oxygen and cause dead zones that cannot support aquatic life. To restore this environmental treasure and economic engine, all contributors to the Bay’s pollution problems must be held accountable. CPR works to ensure that state governments and the EPA are being vigilant, transparent, and equitable in holding polluters responsible for their share of the pollution.
Bay State Milestones
EPA's plan to restore the Chesapeake Bay requires states within the watershed to stick to strict cleanup deadlines over the next decade. In June 2014, EPA reported that many of the states were falling off schedule. Planned reductions in nitrogen fell short of reaching the TMDL’s 2017 target by nearly 6 million pounds. Pennsylvania’s failure to rein in pollution is particularly concerning since the state is the source of about half of the nitrogen that makes its way into the Bay.
In Consequences for Cleanup, CPR President Rena Steinzor and Policy Analyst Anne Havemann applaud EPA for creating consequences for jurisdictions that are falling behind. They write that jurisdictions that are not on track to meet the pollution diet must face consequences if we are to achieve any progress in restoring the Chesapeake Bay.
Regulating Industrial Animal Farms in the Bay States
Industrial animal farms, known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), have a significant impact on the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Unlike human waste, manure from CAFOs is usually spread onto land untreated. From there, it can flow into Bay tributaries—still untreated—and finally into the Chesapeake itself. As a result, the operations account for an outsized share of several types of pollution in the Bay, including significant percentages of nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment.
CAFOs are considered a point source under the Clean Water Act, thus operators must obtain a permit and are subject to government oversight. But Maryland, the state often considered to be the most advanced in its efforts to restore the Bay to health, is lagging behind in its efforts to reign in pollution from CAFOs. According to a November 2013 report by CPR President Rena Steinzor and Policy Analyst Anne Havemann, three years into the state's effort to enforce the new TMDL, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) has built a considerable backlog of pollution permit applications from CAFOs. The permit is the only way to compel CAFOs to follow certain best practices to limit pollutants flowing into the Bay. MDE has not registered 26 percent of Maryland’s CAFOs and MAFOs. Specifically:
The permit writers are behind: 87 out of a total of 506 complete applications have yet to be processed, leaving operators with no clear requirements to reduce pollution and MDE with no enforceable conditions.
The CAFO program is understaffed, relying on three permit writers and the same number of inspectors. A loss of even one employee can cut the program’s productivity in half, as occurred in 2012. Many of the applications MDE receives are incomplete: 65 of 540 CAFOs lack the required comprehensive nutrient management plans (CNMPs) that dictate how the facility is to operate to protect water quality.
MDE has so far given the industry a free ride: it has yet to collect application and annual fees for CAFO permits, which are $120 for small CAFOs, $600 for medium CAFOs, and $1,200 for large CAFOs. There are no fees for MAFO coverage. Collecting these fees would ensure that the program has sufficient resources to hire additional permit writers and inspectors.
In November 2013, a federal judge in West Virginia ruled that certain pollutants from CAFOs were exempt from the Clean Water Act’s permitting requirements, opening a gap in clean water protections. Read CPR Member Scholar William Andreen and Policy Analyst Anne Havemann’s summary of Alt v. EPA. The EPA has appealed the decision.
In June 2012, CPR's Rena Steinzor and Yee Huang examined the impact of factory farming operations on the Chesapeake Bay and concluded that a series of regulatory reforms were in order. Among the reforms proposed in Manure in the Bay: A Report on Industrial Agriculture in Maryland and Pennsylvania: Speedier review of pollution permits by state environmental agencies, rigorous inspections of polluting facilities, and fines for violations that are large enough to serve as a deterrent rather than a nuisance. In addition, the report calls for the states to treat large chicken and hog processing companies that have substantial control over a CAFO in the state—such as Tyson, Perdue, and Smithfield—as subject to Clean Water Act permitting requirements.
Each year, agricultural producers in the United States receive billions of dollars in federal subsidies, crop insurance, conservation payments, and other grants. Defying fundamental principles of good government that apply to other federal programs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is authorized to keep secret much of the basic information farmers provide to qualify for these grants. In Agricultural Secrecy, How Legalized Secrecy Gives Agribusiness a Federally Funded Free Ride, CPR President Rena Steinzor and Policy Analyst Yee Huang argue that shielding farms from independent evaluation is a not justifiable because it costs the taxpayer much more money than it should.
Cleaner Air Means Cleaner Water
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has tried for decades to address the thorny problem of interstate air pollution. The U.S. Supreme Court revived the EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, the agency’s most recent and comprehensive attempt to tackle the issue. CPR Member Scholar Victor Flatt and Policy Analyst Anne Havemann summarized EPA v. EME Homer City Generation, L.P.
The decision has national implications, but holds particular promise for ongoing efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay. Because more than one-third of the nitrogen pollution in the Bay comes from air pollution, stronger federal air pollution rules should mean that Bay states see reductions in pollution coming from upwind and in-state sources.