Despite a 35-day government shutdown that sidelined federal agency involvement, Chesapeake Bay restoration leaders say they are committed to maintaining the deadline to complete new cleanup plans.
Senior state and federal officials said at a meeting last week that they intend to complete draft watershed implementation plans and submit them to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for review by the original deadline of April 12.
“I would say it would be premature right now to revise the Phase III WIP schedule,” said Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles, who chairs the Bay Program’s Principals’ Staff Committee.
While the closure caused some delays, such as the ability to share and analyze data related to plan development with federal officials, Grumbles said, it was important for states to “reiterate our strong commitment to staying on schedule as much as possible.”
The shutdown had raised concerns that it could delay development of the plans, an issue that even came up during the Senate confirmation hearing for Andrew Wheeler, now acting EPA administrator, to head the agency.
States are required to write updated plans showing how they will meet cleanup goals established in the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, often called the Bay’s “pollution diet,” from now through the 2025 cleanup deadline.
The plans have to show what actions the states will take to achieve the needed nutrient and sediment pollution reductions to restore the Bay’s health, and demonstrate that states have adequate programs, staffing, regulations, funding and other support necessary to achieve the goals. The plan-writing process is also supposed to involve local leaders and include more localized pollution reduction planning targets.
While federal agency officials were not able to assist states during the shutdown, some technical assistance was available from universities and nongovernmental organizations assigned to the Bay Program Office.
Still, said Ann Swanson, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which represents state legislatures, “there was a very obvious void when it came to data sharing and quick analysis as policy was being worked on. Everybody felt that, and everybody just felt sort of the coordination void that came with the loss of such significant partners.”
After the EPA reviews the draft WIPs, final plans are to be submitted by Aug. 9.