1972: The Clean Water Act was made law
with bipartisan support from Congress.
1983: The first multi-jurisdiction agree-
ment to clean the Bay was signed.
2000: Following two failed agreements,
Chesapeake 2000 was signed.
2010: A CBF-led lawsuit prompted a legal
agreement to reduce pollution to the Bay.
One such piece of legislation is the Clean Water Act, passed by Congress
in 1972 but vetoed by the President. With bipartisan support in both
houses of Congress, the veto was overridden and the Act became law. The
Act governs discharges to navigable waters and calls for water quality sufficient to protect wildlife and promote recreation by 1983 and the cessation of the discharge of pollutants by 1985.
THE MORE RECENT HISTORY
Clearly, those goals have not yet been met.
The Clean Water Act requires states to report bodies of water that fail to
meet water-quality standards. Those polluted waterways are placed on
what is informally called the federal “impaired waters” list. States are then
required to establish pollution limits for their polluted waters and to
develop plans to achieve pollution-reduction goals. Those limits are
known legally in the Clean Water Act as Total Maximum Daily Loads or
TMDLs. There are thousands of TMDLs today.
The entire main stem of the Chesapeake and most of its tidal tributaries
fail to meet water-quality standards. In 1983, the governors of the principal Bay states—Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania—the Mayor of
Washington, D.C., and the EPA Administrator formally recognized a cooperative approach would be necessary to reduce pollution to the
Chesapeake and signed a simple, one-page agreement pledging a voluntary approach to solving the Bay’s pollution problems. Four years later,
the signatories, joined by the Chairman of the Chesapeake Bay
Commission, signed a second agreement that set the first numeric
goals—reduce nitrogen and phosphorus entering the Bay by 40 percent—and an end date—2000.
Those goals were not met.
And so, the parties to the previous agreements came together once again,
hashing out a third agreement—Chesapeake 2000—reaffirming their clean
water commitment and setting a new end date of 2010. In 2007, the parties conceded they would not make that deadline either, publicly recognizing that a cooperative voluntary approach was not working.
CBF members know that in 2009 CBF and partners took the bold action
of suing EPA for failure to enforce the Clean Water Act, specifically the
failure to require the Bay states to establish management plans to achieve
and maintain the pollution-reduction goals of the 2000 Bay agreement.
After months of negotiation, EPA settled with CBF and the other plaintiffs. The results were a legally binding agreement and a deadline
(December 2010) for EPA to establish, among other things, pollution
limits (a TMDL) for the Chesapeake and its rivers and streams. Between
the settlement date and the end-of-December deadline, EPA issued draft
pollution limits and took and responded to over 14,000 public comments on them. Then, right on schedule, EPA formalized pollution limits, giving each of the states specific numeric targets for nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution reductions they must achieve by 2025.
And, concurrently the states announced their draft plans to reach their