A nonprofit that tracks pollution in the Chesapeake Bay lambasted Pennsylvania on Tuesday, saying that the state is failing to protect the nation's largest estuary from farm manure and dirty stormwater.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation released a report saying Pennsylvania's plan to reduce pollution from farms and cities is "woefully inadequate" and underfunded by about $250 million a year.
The foundation also warned that the Environmental Protection Agency has failed to keep Pennsylvania on track. It's one of six states, along with the District of Columbia, federally required to significantly reduce bay pollution by 2025.
"If EPA does not hold Pennsylvania accountable, CBF and others must consider legal action," foundation President William C. Baker warned in a news release.
Pennsylvania officials said the foundation's assessment is inaccurate and failed to account for all of the state's efforts. The EPA said in its own statement that Pennsylvania has made "significant" progress.
The foundation's report is the latest note of caution about the Chesapeake Bay's health, which appears to be improving after decades of unbridled pollution.
In recent years, the story of the 200-mile-long (325-kilometer-long) bay has mostly been about signs of recovery. Underwater grasses are spreading. Oxygen dead zones are shrinking. The latest survey of blue crabs showed the highest estimates in seven years.
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But environmentalists say more work is needed and threats like climate change still loom. Last year, a punishing cycle of downpours led to increased pollution in the bay, according to a recent report from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.
The EPA has been requiring watershed states to cut phosphorous, nitrogen and sediment pollution, which comes from sewage treatment plants and runoff from farms and cities. The pollutants have led to oxygen dead zones that curtail animal and plant life.
The EPA said in a statement Tuesday that it's reviewing each state's proposed plan to reduce pollution in the years leading up to 2025. Final plans are expected to be submitted in August.
The foundation's report assessed plans from the states that cause the most pollution: Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
It said Virginia is on track provided it "accelerates" its efforts. Maryland is also on track but relies on "less cost effective" methods that may not be sustainable, the foundation said.
The harshest criticism was for Pennsylvania. The state's boundaries do not reach the bay, but some of its waterways, like the Susquehanna River, flow into the Chesapeake through Maryland.
The foundation said Pennsylvania needs to do more to make sure local stormwater systems are updated and farms are effectively handling manure.
The state's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources as well as its Department of Environmental Protection pushed back against the report, noting that Pennsylvania has 33,000 farms and more than 350 municipalities in the watershed.
Farmers are voluntarily making efforts to reduce runoff while best management practices are being implemented, the agencies said in a joint statement.
"We will continue those efforts despite the lack of support from the Foundation or the federal government," the statement said.
The other states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are Delaware, New York and West Virginia.