Maryland missed Monday's deadline for spelling out how the state plans to accelerate its Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts, and other bay states might not turn theirs in on time, either.
Dawn Stoltzfus, spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of the Environment, said state officials have notified the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that they need "a few extra days" to sort through hundreds of comments received on the state's draft plan for bay cleanup.
Stoltzfus said the state had received 113 sets of comments from 750 people on the draft it submitted Sept. 1, plus two petitions with 1,000 signatures and 100 e-mails signed by multiple people.
State officials had said three months ago that they would be guided by public reaction in choosing among a variety of pollution control measures they laid out in the draft plan, including upgrading more sewage plants and household septic tanks, retrofitting urban and suburban storm drains, and trying new ways to curb farm runoff. Stoltzfus said the final plan would be ready "definitely by the end of this week."
EPA officials wouldn't identify which states have notified the agency they expect to miss the deadline. Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia and the District of Columbia all submitted draft plans to EPA outlining how they expected to increase their bay cleanup efforts. EPA found serious deficiencies in all but Maryland's and the District's and room for improvement in all of them in laying out enough pollution control measures to restore the bay's water quality.
"We've heard from some jurisdictions that they may be submitting their plans late," said David Sternberg, spokesman for EPA's mid-Atlantic regional office. He said federal regulators continue to work with officials from all seven jurisdictions and hope to get their final plans soon, so EPA can use them in finalizing the "pollution diet" it has pledged to produce for the Chesapeake by year's end.
But EPA's draft pollution diet, released Sept. 24, has generated opposition from across the six-state region. Farmers, developers and local and state officials — particularly in New York and Virginia — have questioned the scientific basis and EPA's legal authority to order more pollution reductions. Critics also have warned that the reductions in nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment that EPA is proposing to require would be unachievable, costly and potentially damaging to local economies.
"We're still working with all the states, and we're not actually sure just yet who is going to turn their plan in today and who is going to turn it in later this week," said J. Charles Fox, the EPA's senior adviser on the bay. He said delays in getting the states' final plans shouldn't throw off EPA's timetable for producing its final pollution diet because regulators have been in close communication with the states and know what to expect when the plans do come in.