Bay group, EPA settle cleanup suit

CBF: 'This agreement is a game-changer'

By PAMELA WOOD, Staff Writer
The Capital, Published 05/11/10

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Environmental Protection Agency have reached a settlement in an ongoing federal lawsuit over cleaning up the bay.

The agreement puts many of EPA's promises for improving its efforts into an enforceable legal document, officials said at a news conference this morning.

"This agreement is a game-changer," said Will Baker, longtime president of the nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

The foundation had sued the EPA in early 2009, alleging the federal government had failed to clean up the bay, therefore violating the federal Clean Water Act.

The case eventually was put on hold so the foundation and the government could engage in settlement talks. The "stay" granted by the judge in the case was due to expire June 30.

EPA officials joined foundation officials in announceing the settlement at the foundation's bayfront headquarters in Bay Ridge.

EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe said his agency was pleased to have the lawsuit settled in order to move forward on improving the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

"We do not want to be in conflict over this," he said.

The settlement requires EPA to:

Complete its baywide "pollution budget" by the end of this year.

Make sure states have plans for complying with the pollution budget by late 2011.

Withhold federal funding or deny permits as a consequence if states don't comply with the pollution budget.

Adopt rules governing polluted runoff from stormwater and large animal farms in the next few years.

Require new pollution sources to be offset by pollution reductions elsewhere.

All of those steps already have been promised by the federal government.

Some of those promises were made in response to an executive order from President Barack Obama that was issued last May, requiring federal agencies to do more for the bay. The agencies' final responses to the order will be announced in Washington, D.C., tomorrow.

Jon Mueller, the bay foundation attorney who handled the case, said he'll go back to court to have the settlement enforced if EPA doesn't hold up its end of the deal.

"This is a legally binding agreement," Mueller said.

In addition to the bay foundation, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit included the Maryland Watermen's Association, the Virginia State Waterman's Association, the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association, former D.C. mayor Anthony A. Williams, former Maryland governor Harry R. Hughes, former Virginia natural resources secretary W. Tayloe Murphy Jr. and former Maryland state senator Bernie Fowler.

(Revised Mayl 2010)