- The Washington Times - Monday, June 13, 2005

The Environmental Protection Agency yesterday rejected almost all of a proposed slate of tougher restrictions on pollutants discharged into the Chesapeake Bay, but regional environmentalists said they are encouraged that the federal government is focusing attention on the issue.

The EPA balked at 14 of 16 petitions submitted by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in December 2003, opting instead to continue working to better enforce restrictions currently in place under the regional Bay cleanup program.

The foundation, a private group of Chesapeake Bay advocates, is pushing for increased regulation of nitrogen output from facilities such as sewage treatment plants

Ben Grumble, EPA assistant administrator of water, said the agency felt that working with the program currently in place would prove more productive.

?We spent considerable time reviewing the long list the foundation submitted to us, and we feel we chose a better path,? Mr. Grumble said. ?We’re in the same race as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, but we chose not to institute more federal regulations, but to instead to work with the states.?

Still, Roy Hoagland, vice president for environmental protection and restoration for the foundation, said yesterday’s decision was a victory for Bay advocates.

?The petition listed various ways through which the EPA could enforce limits on nitrogen output, and the response concedes that they do have the power,? Mr. Hoagland said.

Mr. Grumble said the petitions were denied because they would have required new legislation, which could delay the cleanup for years and divert resources that otherwise could be spent on Bay restoration.

The two petitions the EPA adopted focused on increased oversight of state permits regarding nutrient pollution and revisiting individual states’ progress toward goals.

Some environmentalists and legislators have complained that the states and the EPA have made little progress in the five years since the Chesapeake cleanup was organized. Mr. Grumble maintained that the Chesapeake Bay Partnership, which comprises representatives from the EPA, Maryland, Virginia, the District, Pennsylvania and three other states, is on target.

?A lot has happened since the foundation’s lawyers filed their petition, and both the EPA and the states feel the quickest path is to continue with the current approach,? Mr. Grumble said.

For example, Maryland officials announced last week a crackdown on plants that release unhealthy amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous, two nutrients that reduce Bay oxygen levels.

Mr. Grumble also cited legislation recently passed in Virginia, which became the first state in the partnership to establish a nutrient-trading program among companies that discharge nutrients into the Bay.

Virginia also is expected to submit new standards for water quality, which it then could include in its permits rather than using the EPA standards. Mr. Grumble said these new standards will help cut nutrient pollution to the ?lowest level technologically feasible.?

The foundation will wait to see whether the EPA is willing to ?walk the walk? by following up on a December 2004 agreement to reduce nitrogen by 375,000 tons, Mr. Hoagland said. ?If the EPA does what it says, we are going to see an improvement in nitrogen reduction.?

The EPA will continue to work with the foundation toward the goals set a half-decade ago, Mr. Grumble said.

?They are a valuable partner in the program,? he said. ?We feel the most effective approach is to focus on the program — not on lengthy litigation.

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