RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia is defending the multistate plan to restore the environmentally battered Chesapeake Bay, arguing in a court filing that the state's interest in the nation's largest estuary is "incalculably great."
Attorney General Mark R. Herring announced Thursday that the state has filed a friend-of-the court brief in support of the plan, which aims to restore the bay after decades of neglect and broken promises.
The filing is in the 3rd U.S. Circuit of Appeals in Philadelphia, which is considering an appeal by farm industry groups of a ruling upholding the plan. They have been joined by attorneys general from 21 states in a suit that questions the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to implement the plan.
American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman has called the pollution limits "a remarkable power grab" by the EPA.
Dismissing that claim, Herring cited the bay's economic and environmental importance in defense of the plan.
"When the most promising plan to protect and restore the bay comes under attack, I am going to stand up for the health of Virginia families, for Virginia's economic interests, for Virginia's efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay," Herring said in prepared remarks at a news conference at Fort Monroe, a historic former Army base at the southern end of the bay.
The EPA is leading the six-state effort to restore the bay by 2025. The multibillion-dollar effort comprises Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York and the District of Columbia.
The federal government took the lead on the cleanup after the states within the bay's vast watershed failed to act on promises to restore the bay. Seventeen million people live within the watershed.
Pollution in the bay has created "dead zones" where nothing lives and has taken a toll on marine life such as the bay's signature blue crab.
The restoration plan seeks to limit farm and commercial development runoff that fouls rivers and streams feeding the bay, among other measures. Farm groups have long complained the plan shifts too much of the burden on agricultural operations.
In the lower court decision under appeal, a judge ruled that the EPA was within its authority to work with the states and the District of Columbia to establish and enforce standards to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment that drain into the bay. Those pollutants have clouded the bay's waters, snuffing critical sea grasses.
Virginia's filing was applauded by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which has been the leading advocate of cleaning up the bay.
"The commonwealth and her citizens clearly have much to gain from a healthy Chesapeake Bay, and much to lose should bay restoration be thwarted," Foundation President William C. Baker said in a statement.
In its brief, Virginia argued that the bay supports industries and thousands of jobs, and is a recreational resource for fishing, boating and swimming.
"In short, Virginia's interests in the Chesapeake Bay are incalculably great," the brief states.
Steve Szkotak can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sszkotakap