Environmental Integrity Project Executive Director Eric Schaeffer, a former Director of Civil Enforcement at the Environmental Protection Agency – Photo/EIPThe authors of a detailed report on wastewater pollution issues in states whose waterways are part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed made suggestions on paths forward in dealing with those issues.
The report “Sewage and Wastewater Pollution in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed” released at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday morning, November 29, by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) summarized issues ranging from
- outright permit dumping violations made with minimal consequence;
- a pollution credit trading system available in some states, including Virginia, it says has been carelessly overseen and often abused;
- too slow progress on mandated upgrades to wastewater treatment plants in the bay watershed.
The EIP recommendations on how the bay states could better manage this wastewater pollution include:
- Pollution trading systems, like those of Virginia and Pennsylvania, should be avoided in Maryland and other states not already employing them because they can lead to reduced accountability and increased local pollution “hot spots.” (as EIP reported, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan’s administration is expected to release new draft regulations to allow pollution trading on December 8.)
- The bay region states should more consistently fine wastewater treatment plants and other polluters that violate their permit limits.
- States that do allow facilities to engage in pollution trading should require the plants to accurately and promptly report to public databases their credits purchases and their impact on various rivers and streams.
- EPA should press bay region states, especially Pennsylvania, New York and Delaware, to upgrade more of their large municipal wastewater treatment plants with state-of-the art technology, following the lead of Maryland, the District of Columbia and Virginia.
The EIP report observes that bay region states have not invested equally in modernizing their municipal sewage plants.
The report states that Maryland has paid about $1.25 billion to upgrade 79 percent of its large municipal sewage plants to enhanced levels since lawmakers passed a “flush tax” law in 2004. Virginia has invested about $800 million to improve 44 percent (40 of 90) of its large municipal sewage plants to similar standards. An estimated $40-million in federal and state-mandated upgrades to the Front Royal Treatment Plant are approaching completion within the coming year.
The District of Columbia region’s one sewage plant – Blue Plains, the bay’s largest – has been upgraded to an enhanced level. In West Virginia about half (6 out of 13) of the wastewater plants have been modernized to this standard.
Other states are lagging further behind.
In Pennsylvania the report notes that “most plants have been upgraded to a lower level, with only 4 percent (7 of 189) of the large-to medium-sized municipal sewage treatment plants in the bay watershed of Pennsylvania having enhanced pollution control systems.”
New York and Delaware are pitching “O-fers” according to EIP – none of New York’s 26 plants have been upgraded and in Delaware it is zero of three.
As stated in our initial November 29 story on the EIP report, see related story through use of the pollution credit trading system the Front Royal WWTP was allowed to dump over twice its permitted amount of phosphorous (9,146 pounds) into the Shenandoah River in 2016. Strasburg’s WWTP was also noted as utilizing the system to dump over three times its permitted level of phosphorous (2,942 pounds) into the North Fork of the Shenandoah last year. The report observes that the North Fork of the Shenandoah already was dealing with what were described as “excessive levels of phosphorous” – a symptom of the trading system’s failures, according to EIP.
Information on the status and impact of upgrades underway at Front Royal’s WWTP on the Town’s past and future use of the pollution credit trading system will be added in an upcoming story.
The Environmental Integrity Project is a 15-year-old nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, based in Washington D.C. It is dedicated to enforcing environmental laws and holding polluters and governments accountable to protect public health.