Calling it "the most significant lawsuit in the history of Bay restoration," with "unprecedented national implications," the nonprofit foundation is asking the court to order EPA to reduce pollution from all sources - air, wastewater treatment plants, and urban, suburban, and agricultural runoff.
"We have asked that EPA accept its responsibility under the Clean Water Act. EPA must impose a legally binding pollution reduction budget, or cap, that will restore water quality," said CBF President William Baker.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia following the expiry on Saturday of a legally required 60 day notice of intent to sue.
Runoff from a Silver Spring, Maryland shopping center parking lot into Sligo Creek. This tributary of the Anacostia River feeds into the Potomac River and eventually empties into the Chesapeake Bay. (Photo by ArknTina)
"While discussions have occurred, we have not been able to resolve our claims during the 60 day notice period," said Baker.
"Despite EPA's assertions to the contrary, CBF believes that after 25 years of failed policies the only way to ensure that EPA does its job is to have a court order requiring it," Baker said.
Since 1983, EPA and the Bay states have signed three agreements to restore the Chesapeake Bay. The most recent, the Chesapeake 2000 agreement, committed to reduce pollution sufficiently to have the Bay removed from the federal impaired waters list by 2010.
EPA has acknowledged that the goal will not be met and there is now discussion of pushing that goal back to 2020 or beyond.
In addition, over the past several years, three EPA Inspector General's reports and one Government Accountability Office report have detailed EPA's leadership failures.
Baker blames the Bush administration for the declining water quality of the Chesapeake Bay.
"Over the last eight years the EPA, which has the responsibility to lead the effort to enforce the Clean Water Act, has abdicated leadership and weakened regulations that would have reduced pollution," Baker said. "The rule of science and the rule of law have been subjugated to political dogma and a policy of deregulation that has wreaked havoc from financial markets to environmental protection."
"Science has provided a roadmap for Bay restoration and EPA has the tools to get the job done," he said. "The Bay is still polluted due to the lack of political will."
The Chesapeake Bay is North America's largest and most biologically diverse estuary, inhabited by 3,600 species of plants, fish and animals, the foundation explains to the court in its complaint.
Co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the Virginia State Waterman's Association, the Maryland Watermen's Association, the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association, former Maryland Governor Harry Hughes, retired Maryland Senator Bernie Fowler, former Virginia legislator and Natural Resources Secretary Tayloe Murphy, and former Washington, DC Mayor Anthony Williams.
In the January issue of the "Watermen's Gazette," Larry Sims, president of the Maryland Watermen's Association, said, "We were supposed to reach certain goals by the year 2010 as outlined in the Chesapeake 2000 agreement, but now the EPA wants to prolong it to 2022. With any luck, this lawsuit will grab people’s attention and help put pressure on the federal government to live up to their end of the bargain."
Unfortunately," said Sims, "this is a nationwide problem as the EPA hasn't necessarily done their job in any part of this country as far as protecting its resources."
"With a new administration, there is hope for change," Baker said. "This lawsuit will put Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts directly in front of the new EPA administrator."
Chesapeake Bay from the shore at Stevensville, Maryland (Photo by Rachhan)
"The Chesapeake Bay is a national treasure," said Baker. "We believe that through this lawsuit, it can also become a model for pollution reduction and the restoration of water quality across the nation."
Most of the Bay's waters are degraded, admits the Chesapeake Bay Program, a partnership including the states of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia; the District of Columbia; the Chesapeake Bay Commission; the U.S. EPA; and participating citizen advisory groups, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
In 2007, we were 21 percent of the way toward meeting Bay water quality goals, a drop from 23 percent in 2006, says the Chesapeake Bay Program, CPB.
The Bay's critical habitats and food web continue to be at risk, the CPB acknowledges. Currently, the Bay's habitats and lower food web are at 44 percent of desired levels, up from 40 percent in 2006.
Many of the Bay's fish and shellfish populations are below historic levels, the CPB says. Currently, the Bay's fish and shellfish are at 52 percent of desired levels, up from 48 percent in 2006.
To begin process of resolving its complaint, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has provided a list of 33 actions that the federal government can take, including better enforcement of existing laws.
While the foundation did not release all the specifics, some components include:
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