Despite significant progress, John Hanger, secretary of Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection, is warning that looming federal pollution reduction requirements will necessitate more, workable and cost-effective plans to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. That's the bottom line of his messages while out stumping across the state this week at public hearings on the state's proposed plans.
Pennsylvania has reduced the pollution from all contributing sectors and industries. Since 1985, the state has reduced nitrogen by 28%, phosphorus by 46% and sediment by between 38 and 46%.
"We understand that more needs to be done," adds Hanger. "One important question to ask, though, is: How much more needs to be done?"
According to U.S. EPA's existing models, Pennsylvania now contributes 106.4 million pounds of N and 3.96 million pounds of P to the bay watershed each year, plus 1.28 million tons of sediment. However, the commonwealth questions those numbers, and he says they need to be verified.
"We have a good understanding of [reductions] our sewage treatment plants have achieved But," Hanger believes "farmers, developers and other groups may underreport the good work they've done."
"We want to develop a process that'll give us a better handle on how well we have done. With that information, we'll have a better sense of what more needs to be done."
As American Agriculturist has previously reported, state conservation officials and farm organizations contend that U.S. EPA's assessment of Pennsylvania agriculture's beneficial role leaves out its no-till contribution.
EPA is expected to institute a total maximum daily load for each Chesapeake Bay watershed state. That TMDL would set enforceable limits on how much nutrient and sediment pollution each state is allowed. Those TMDLs are expected to be published in December.
Plugging agriculture in
To meet EPA's 2025 goals, Pennsylvania's strategy involves these core elements:
- Establish attainable two-year milestones and improve the state's ability to track its progress by working with partners such as county conservation districts.
- Work with the state Department of Agriculture and companies to install technologies such as methane digesters and electrical co-generation plants on dairy, poultry and hog farms that can produce electricity and marketable byproducts; reduce methane emissions; and generate renewable energy, nutrient reduction and carbon credits that can then be sold and provide farm revenue.
- Pennsylvania's existing Nutrient Credit Trading Program has already helped municipal treatment plants and communities reduce N, P and sediment discharges. That would be enhanced by an annual $100-million state/federal investment fund to support large-scale methane digester projects throughout the watershed – at least one per year in Pennsylvania.
- Enhance common sense compliance efforts, particularly for nonpoint sources. Current outreach efforts and technical assistance would be expanded, continuing existing regulatory programs. But changes would be made where necessary.