Group Sues Over Chesapeake Restoration Strategy

By ALEX DOMINGUEZ
|  Tuesday, Jun 28, 2011  |  Updated 9:09 PM EDT
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Group Sues Over Chesapeake Restoration Strategy

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The National Association of Homebuilders is challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's strategy for restoring the Chesapeake Bay.

The group claims in a lawsuit filed Friday in Scranton, Pa., that the EPA is circumventing the federal Clean Water Act by setting limits for how much pollution can come from farms, factories, lawns and other sources in each of the six bay watershed states. Pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizer, auto and power plant emissions spawn oxygen-robbing algae blooms once they reach the bay, creating dead zones.

The strategy is forcing additional pollution cuts on virtually all activity in the six-state watershed from farms to housing developments and sewage treatment plants. The EPA implemented the strategy in response to a presidential order after decades of state-led efforts failed to achieve restoration goals and led to suits by environmental groups.

The suit by the homebuilders group also claims the public did not receive adequate time or access to information on the strategy to comment effectively. The group wants the court to rule that the pollutant allocations in the strategy are not legally enforceable and block its enforcement.

“EPA used an unprecedented process to micromanage waterways from Virginia to New York through the assignment of highly specific pollutant loads,” the complaint reads.

The lawsuit also criticized EPA models used to develop the pollution limits, saying they are based on erroneous information fed into computer models that would have been unsuitable even if the information was accurate.

The group said the strategy will make permits for residential and light commercial development in the watershed harder to obtain. The association said it represents more than 160,000 members in home building, remodeling, multifamily housing construction, property management, subcontracting, design, finance, manufacturing and other aspects of residential and light commercial construction. About 16,000 are in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, which covers Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Delaware, New York and the District of Columbia.

EPA spokesman David Sternberg said the agency is reviewing the complaint and did not have any immediate comment.

He did say that “clean water is our shared obligation to the watershed's 17 million residents and countless communities.”

The suit is the latest challenge to the restoration effort, which is also the subject of a lawsuit by the American Farm Bureau Federation. Environmental and other groups are siding with the EPA.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, an organization representing sewer authorities nationwide, announced in May that they were asking a federal judge to let them to join the farm bureau lawsuit in support of the EPA. Association director Ken Kirk said at the time that his organization has concerns about the EPA's strategy, but is much more concerned with attempts by the plaintiffs to walk away from the process.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which has sued the EPA over the slow pace of bay restoration efforts, issued a statement Tuesday calling the homebuilders suit another attempt by a special interest to avoid responsibility.

“Meaningful pollution reduction will require all to do their part, including those who build new houses,” said William C. Baker, the foundation's president.

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