An environmental group that has spent decades seeking to clean up the Chesapeake Bay announced Tuesday it settled a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency, hours ahead of a planned EPA rollout of a restoration strategy ordered by President Barack Obama.
Will Baker, president of the nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said the settlement imposes legally enforceable steps on the EPA to reduce pollutants in the nation’s largest estuary.
Obama issued an executive order last May requiring EPA to come up with a strategy, putting the federal government at the helm of restoration efforts previously led by the states. The federal agency plans to release its plan on Wednesday in Washington, saying it will put the bay on a “pollution diet” against runoff, chemicals and other wastes harming the waterway.
The foundation sued the EPA in January 2009 over what it called the slow pace of cleanup efforts, but stayed the suit while the federal agency began work on its strategy.
West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York are all at least partly in the bay’s watershed along with Maryland and Virginia. Pollution that flows into many of their rivers and streams makes its way to the Chesapeake and two top problems are nitrogen and phosphorous that fuel oxygen-robbing algae blooms, along with sediment runoff that kills vital underwater grasses.
Pollution and habitat loss have been major factors in sharp declines of the bay’s two main commercial fisheries, oysters and crabs, although strict harvest cuts have helped the crab population rebound.
While much attention has focused on reducing nutrient runoff from farms and animal feeding operations, EPA officials have said suburban and urban stormwater runoff from such sources as lawns, roads, and rooftops is the only still-expanding pollution source. Experts say runoff is so poorly controlled that yearly weather is one of the key factors in how much pollution washes into the bay.
Virginia waterman Joe Palmer, who has worked the Chesapeake’s waters for 42 years, said he welcomed tighter pollution controls and hoped they would be good for the bay’s blue crab population.
Watermen often get the blame for the decline of the crab through overfishing, but pollution and habitat loss are also responsible, he said.
“If you don’t enforce the pollution controls, the baby fish and the baby crabs can’t grow,” said Palmer, who sets his crab pots in bay tidal waters near Virginia Beach.
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