January 08, 2020

Van Hollen Presses the Need for EPA to Enforce Bay Pollution Reduction Standards

“If we don't get assurances from the EPA in short order that they’re going to enforce these targets and come up with a realistic plan for hitting those targets, then we are going to have sue EPA to do its job”

Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) questioned Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles at a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Hearing on the importance of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL pollution reduction standards. The exchange came in response to the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program Director’s recent remarks calling into question their role in enforcing the TMDL standards. A transcript of their exchange is available below.  

VAN HOLLEN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank both of you, as witnesses. I think this hearing highlights the importance of the Section 319 Program to address nonpoint source pollution. Another important program in that regard is the Rural Conservation Partnership Program, and I want to thank Senator Boozman for working with Senator Capito, Senator Cardin, myself and others to increase the mandatory funding under the Farm Bill for that – because that’s also vitally important to protect watersheds like the Chesapeake Bay. I'd like to zero in on something Secretary Grumbles commented on in his statement, and that is the current state of the Chesapeake Bay Agreement, which essentially puts different states on what we call a pollution diet, right? The TMDL is the total maximum daily load – as part of the Chesapeake Bay Agreement, some of the key states agreed that they would hit certain pollution reduction targets. We just saw from EPA’s analysis in December that the state of Pennsylvania is falling very far short on some of those key pollution reduction targets. And there were some alarming statements made recently by the head of the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program suggesting that those pollution targets that states are supposed to achieve by 2025 are purely “aspirational,” and that they are not enforceable, which I think is dead wrong when you look at the agreement. So Secretary Grumbles my first question is have you gotten any clarification from EPA since that comment was made as to whether they believe the agreement is enforceable?

SECRETARY BEN GRUMBLES: EPA issued a statement that backed away from using that word – aspirational – and underscored that they are committed to working with each of the states to meet their goals by 2025. We are still very concerned about that. We absolutely believe that it’s not just aspirational – it’s enforceable. And it’s not just informational – it’s integral to our success for 2025. We understand full well that nonpoint source pollution is not regulated directly under the Clean Water Act. But when you have a TMDL -- and the uniqueness of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, which is like no other in the country, with these watershed implementation plans that are then integrated in the 303-E, the continuing planning process – there are some real commitments and responsibilities and obligations that EPA has to implement the EPA Chesapeake Bay TMDL beyond aspirational.

VAN HOLLEN: And I want to make it clear that I think all of the members of the Chesapeake Bay States would like to work with the state of Pennsylvania to help it achieve its targets. We would like to see additional federal resources -- whether it’s from the Rural Conservation [Partnership] Program or other programs – go to Pennsylvania to address these issues. But ultimately, as of today, Pennsylvania is not on course to meet its targets. And we need assurances from EPA that it will play its role to ultimately enforce those targets. I’m drafting a letter with Senator Cardin and others to make it clear to EPA that that’s our understanding of it means, and that understanding is actually affirmed by the Third U.S. District Court of Appeals’ decision. This has been litigated before -- has it not?

GRUMBLES: It has. It’s over a five-year period from the 2013 decision to a 2016 Supreme Court letting it stand. The Chesapeake Bay TMDL is lawful. EPA has an important role. We are not trying to make the nonpoint source program regulatory – it’s through the context of the TMDL. There’s a clear and distinct responsibility of the interstate umpire to step in and take actions when a state like Pennsylvania is not even meeting seventy-five percent of its commitment. And when it’s going to be hundreds of millions of dollars, and they don’t have the plan, we need intervention on that front – and to still work together as partners, but we need intervention and leadership.

VAN HOLLEN: Right. And no – I don’t think anyone’s suggesting, just to be clear, making the Section 319 Program a mandatory program. This is a distinct agreement under the TMDL among the states, and a Third U.S. District Court of Appeals judge has already said that this creates enforceable rights and obligations. I just want to say to you, Mr. Secretary, and to the Governor – that if we don't get assurances from the EPA in short order that they’re going to enforce these targets and come up with a realistic plan for hitting those targets, then we are going to have sue EPA to do its job and enforce the agreement. I believe you agree, do you not?

GRUMBLES: Oh yeah, and the Governor agrees. The Governor feels very strongly about this. 

VAN HOLLEN: I just think this has come to a boil now with the statements that were made recently by the head of the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program. So this is a moment we need absolute clarity and an enforceable program to hit the targets in 2025. Thank you.