Monday, December 6, 2010

Virginia Submits Their Final Watershed Implementation Plan

On November 29th 2010 Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources, Doug Domenech, submitted the final version of the Virginia Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The introduction to the revised plan states that full implementation of the plan would cost more than $7 billion dollars which would be according to Secretary Domenech “another federal unfunded mandate on the state, localities, private industries, and homeowners and would place enormous new fiscal stress on state budgets.” As a show of good faith, the Governor of Virginia included $36.4 million new dollars in the state’s Water Quality Improvement Fund in his 2011 budget amendments. The WIP went on to state that “In these austere times, we cannot guarantee what additional funding will be provided by our General Assembly. It is our position that the success of the WIP may be subject to the provision of sufficient federal funding to assist in covering these massive new unfunded mandates.”

In Virginia this $7 billon dollars to meet the 2017 TMDL represents more than $1,500 for every person living within the Virginia portion of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. To put this in perspective, the state would have to add a Chesapeake Bay surcharge to every property tax bill within the watershed for the next 6 years of $1,000 or more per household.

If you recall the first version of the Virginia WIP the plan did not meet the TMDL loading levels with “reasonable assurance.” The EPA found that none of the states met the reasonable assurance standard, but that Virginia’s WIP had a “moderate need” for federal backstops. Virginia’s WIP was found to have serious deficiencies. It did not meet allocations for nitrogen (6 percent over) and phosphorus (7 percent over), but did meet allocations for sediment (12 percent under). In addition, the EPA found that the Virginia WIP relied on pollution trading programs but had no commitment to adopt new regulations relying instead on market forces. The WIP was deemed to be vague and was found to have limited enforceability and accountability for filling the gaps identified by the EPA and few data points to demonstrate compliance.

Over the past quarter century the excess nutrient contamination to the Chesapeake Bay has decreased, but the Bay’s waters remain seriously degraded. As a result, US EPA has taken control of the situation and has developed a new federally mandated TMDL to restore the local waters. The TMDL (released as a Draft standard in July and to be finalized at the end of December) allocates a pollution budget among the states which will decrease over time. It is also a keystone of the federal strategy to meet President Obama’s Executive Order to restore and protect the Chesapeake Bay by 2017

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation performed a telephone survey of Virginia residents and found that 80% of voters believe that Virginia can protect water quality and have a strong economy with good jobs for Virginians. In addition, almost two thirds of Virginia voters want Virginia to establish its own plan to reduce polluted runoff through stronger requirements and incentives so that farms, sewage treatment plants, and others meet the new pollution reduction standards rather than have the federal government step in and take control in Virginia. So we now have the revised WIP and the need to add $7 billion dollars in state taxes to pay for the plan.

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