EPA denies backing off commitment to clean up Chesapeake Bay

The Environmental Protection Agency insists it’s committed to cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, and it’s rejecting criticism from Maryland officials and environmentalists.

In a letter to Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and other members of Congress, Cosmo Servidio, administrator of the EPA’s mid-Atlantic region, said the agency “will continue to work diligently and professionally” to restore the Bay.

Servidio also said that recent remarks by the director of the agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program were mischaracterized.

Earlier this month, participants in an Annapolis meeting charged that EPA Bay Program Director Dana Aunkst called pollution-reduction goals an “aspirational document” but not legally enforceable.

In his letter, Servidio said the Trump administration is adhering to language in 2016 court filings by the Obama administration, which says pollution reduction goals for each state do “not impose any binding implementation requirements on the states.”

Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman said the EPA was “walking back the federal commitment to the Bay cleanup effort.”

In an emailed statement Wednesday evening, Pittman said, “It’s clear the EPA referees have left the room. The EPA is unwilling to hold all the states accountable to their pollution-reduction goals at a time when we need leadership more than ever. If Washington isn’t willing to lead, our state and local governments must.”

Servidio said the EPA will continue to use its existing authority under the Clean Water Act to ensure that the states and D.C. are accountable for their share of pollution reduction.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a conservation group, said Monday it was prepared to sue the EPA for failing to enforce the Clean Water Act by limiting pollution into the Bay.

The EPA letter to Congress has failed to dissuade the conservation group from taking legal action. The foundation said Pennsylvania’s latest pollution reduction plan, filed in December, falls 25% short of its goals and is not properly funded.

“By taking no action to hold Pennsylvania accountable, [the] EPA has failed to adhere to the commitment to use its existing statutory authorities, abdicating its responsibilities under the Clean Water Act,” said Jon Mueller, the foundation’s vice president for litigation, in a written statement.

New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and D.C. make up the Bay watershed and are subject to pollution limits.

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