Massive Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Plan Settles EPA Lawsuit

A new plan for the restoration of Chesapeake Bay is one of the largest and most complex restoration efforts ever attempted in the US.

The plan results from the settlement of a lawsuit brought against the EPA by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and its co-plaintiffs. The organization filed a lawsuit in January of 2009 and began negotiations with the Obama administration following what the group says were years of neglect by the Bush administration.

In May 2009, President Obama signed an executive order declaring the Chesapeake Bay a national treasure and setting in motion work to create a restoration plan.

Under the settlement, EPA will implement the Chesapeake total maximum daily load (a pollution diet for the Chesapeake Bay and local waterways), expand regulation of urban and suburban stormwater and concentrated animal feeding operations and increase enforcement activities and funding for state regulatory programs. 

The strategy includes using regulations to restore clean water, implementing new conservation practices on 4 million acres of farms, conserving 2 million acres of undeveloped land and rebuilding oysters in 20 tributaries of the bay. EPA is now legally bound to clean up the waters of the Chesapeake, and to increase accountability, federal agencies will establish milestones every two years for actions to make progress toward measurable environmental goals.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will provide farmers and forest owners throughout the bay watershed with the resources to prevent soil erosion and keep nitrogen and phosphorous out of local waterways. USDA will target federal funding to the places where it will have the greatest water quality impact and ensure that agricultural producers’ conservation efforts are accurately reported. USDA will also lead a federal initiative to develop a watershed-wide environmental services market that would allow producers to generate tradable water quality credits in return for installing effective conservation practices.

To protect priority lands, the Department of the Interior will launch a collaborative Chesapeake Treasured Landscape Initiative and expand land conservation by coordinating federal funding and providing community assistance. Interior will also develop a plan for increasing public access to the bay and its rivers.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will launch a bay-wide oyster restoration strategy in close collaboration with Maryland and Virginia that focuses on priority tributaries, expands commercial aquaculture and bolsters research on oyster stock, habitat and restoration progress. Oysters are among the bay’s most struggling species and restoration in 20 tributaries is expected to yield environmental and economic benefits.

"The settlement helps ensure, on an ongoing basis, that EPA will play its essential role in setting targets for bay restoration and holding the states accountable," said Jonathan Cannon, director of the University of Virginia’s Law School’s Environmental and Land Use Law Program. "This is an excellent outcome and marks a further strengthening of our collective resolve to reverse the Bay’s decline."

Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s co-plaintiffs included former Maryland Governor Harry Hughes, retired Maryland Senator Bernie Fowler, former Virginia legislator and Natural Resources Secretary W. Tayloe Murphy, former Washington D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, the Virginia State Waterman’s Association, the Maryland Watermen’s Association, and the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen’s Association.

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