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Score one for the Chesapeake

chesapeake.jpgEnvironmental groups have settled a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency over pollution in the 160,000 square kilometre watershed of the Chesapeake Bay.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and a grouping of former elected officials, watermen, and sports fishermen sued the federal agency in January 2009, claiming the EPA had failed to take adequate measures to protect and restore the nation’s largest estuary. Now they have reached a settlement, just as the EPA issues its new restoration strategy for the waterways.

The Bay area extends through Maryland and Virginia into West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York. Pollution flowing into many of the area’s rivers and streams end up in the Chesapeake — where nitrogen and phosphorous fuel algae blooms that kill other life and sediment runoff smothers underwater grasses. All this has contributed to sharp declines in commercial fisheries, oysters and crabs (AP).

“For the first time in bay history, the EPA has said in a legally enforceable document that ‘We are responsible for bay restoration,’” says Jon Mueller, a lawyer for the foundation (Washington Post).

He adds, “The bottom line is that this is a legally binding agreement that requires mandatory – not voluntary – pollution reductions” (Bay Daily).

The settlement, announced on Tuesday, was reached just hours before a planned EPA rollout of a restoration strategy, which President Obama ordered last May. The “Strategy for Protecting and Restoring the Chesapeake Bay Watershed” announced today will use regulations to restore clean water, implement new conservation practices on 4 million acres of farms, conserve 2 million acres of undeveloped land and rebuild oysters in 20 tributaries of the bay.

The agreement will also initiate rulemaking for regulations on urban and suburban stormwater runoff from lawns, roads, and rooftops and establish a publicly accessible system to monitor progress through two-year milestones.

The federal government has previously announced bay cleanup plans but, according to the foundation, these promises were not kept. “This agreement is a game changer,” says foundation president William Baker (Washington Post).

“In 1983, 1987 and 2000, those were good words on paper, but this is a legal document. We’ve had promises before but never a legal document.”

He adds, “This agreement is going to lead to pollution reductions, and if it doesn’t we’ll be back in court” (Baltimore Sun).

Image: NASA

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