Bay Cleanup: Stick or Carrot?

By Sharon Behn

There are those who believe that rewarding people for change is an effective policy. And there are those who believe that only by bringing the power of the law to bear will people alter their polluting habits.

The Waterkeepers, an advocacy group that states it is dedicated to preserving and protecting water from polluters, appears to have taken the latter approach.

Assateague Coastkeeper and Waterkeeper supporter Kathy Phillips is readying to file a complaint under the Clean Water Act against Hudson Farm and its contractor Perdue Farms, according to the Maryland Coast Dispatch.

During an aerial survy, Phillips had found that Hudson Farm appeared to have a large pile of chicken manure — a source of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution unless properly treated — close to a ditch that carried stormwater from the farm into Franklin Branch, which empties into the Pocomoke River and then into the Chesapeake.

After Phillips reported the case to the Waterkeeper Alliance, the pile was moved, but Phillips said there was still an illegal level of pollution. The Waterkeper Alliance sent a Notice of Intent to file the lawsuit on Dec. 17, 2009, and the February 26 deadline is now coming up when the organization must decide whether it is going to pursue the case.

The Waterkeepers have taken legal action before. Most recently, the Alliance challenged the Maryland Depeartment of the Environment’s general stormwater permits for construction sites. On May 15, according to the Waterkeepers’ website, the MDE settled with the Alliance and committed to make “significant changes” to the way it requires developers to prevent polluted runoff.

This litigious approach is not always appreciated by other advocates of the environment, but after years and millions of dollars have largely ineffectively been invested in trying to persuade polluters to change, even the EPA is moving away from the carrot and trying the stick.

In January, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) outlined a “rigorous accountability framework” for addressing pollution levels in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. It is the latest in a series of federal efforts to address levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment in the Bay watershed area.

According to Reed Smith, a company that specializes in complex litigation and high-stakes cases, the measures  include, for the first time in the 26-year history of the cleanup effort of the Chesapeake Bay, “a number of punitive measures intended to force compliance with pollution controls by the six Chesapeake Bay states – Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennyslvania, Virginia and West Virginia – and the District of Columbia”.

More lawsuits can be expected.

About Us

Bay on the Brink is a multimedia reporting project examining the fate of the Chesapeake Bay. It is produced by fellows at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism as part of News21, a consortium of journalism schools. This is the fellows' blog. The full project site is here: http://chesapeake.news21.com
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