Two recent developments seemed to be the best news for the Chesapeake Bay in 38 years — until Gov. Robert F. McDonnell got involved.
A lawsuit filed by seafood groups and ecologists to make the Environmental Protection Agency enforce water pollution standards was resolved in May. And the Obama administration announced it would take a new survey to identify sources of bay pollution and toughen pollution regulations.
But McDonnell recently wrote to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson complaining that rather than load up the state with more regulation, it should try other methods, such as educating farmers about pollution. McDonnell's secretary of natural resources, Doug Domenech, says that costly new rules would hurt such industries as home construction and forestry.
David K. Paylor, director of the state Department of Environmental Quality, says that based on preliminary new pollution estimates the EPA sent the state in June, it could cost an extra $500 million to bring the James River into compliance. “Over the past 15 years,” he says, “$1.5 billion in state and local funds have been spent statewide for Bay cleanup.”
DEQ spokesman Bill Hayden says a quick estimate shows that new EPA regulations could force the city to fork out an additional $30 million to the nearly completed $130-million upgrade of Richmond's sewage treatment plant, which discharges treated wastewater into the James River.
It's unclear where the money would come from, however. Robert Steidel, deputy director for the city's department of public utilities, says the state's Water Quality Improvement Fund, which allots money for such improvements, is currently tapped out.
“Either we increase rates or don't do other things,” Steidel says of the $30 million in potential upgrades.
Some question why McDonnell believes farmers need to be educated about pollution, as some of the biggest polluters are large corporate agribusinesses such as Smithfield Foods, fined millions in the mid-'90s for waste runoff into the Pagan River from a large hog processing facility. As for Domenech's worries about the forestry sector, he spent 12 years as a lobbyist for the Forest Research Association in Washington.
Hayden says that it's incorrect to say that McDonnell doesn't support a clean Chesapeake Bay. “We just want to know how much this will cost,” he says.