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Tepid Reaction To Va. Bay Cleanup Plan

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Chesapeake Bay, Bay

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia’s latest plan to restore the Chesapeake Bay received a tepid response Tuesday from environmentalists, who said it leans too heavily on voluntary efforts and federal funding to get the job done.

The 133-page plan, submitted Monday to the Environmental Protection Agency, estimates the full cost of the Virginia proposals at $7 billion over 15 years. As a “show of good faith,” it states Gov. Bob McDonnell will provide $36.4 million in new funding for water quality improvements.

The plan is a revision of a draft submitted in September that was panned by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and other environmental groups.

“I think it’s an improvement of the draft,” said J.R. Tolbert of the Virginia Sierra Club. “It would be hard not to improve on the draft.”

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation said it was encouraged by improvements in the plan, such as pollution reductions in the James River, but disappointed by the lack of mandates to reduce runoff from Virginia farms.

“Unlike the clear commitments to reductions from the wastewater sector, Virginia has not provided the same reasonable assurances from the agriculture sector,” Ann F. Jennings, the foundation’s Virginia executive director, said in a statement.

In a cover letter to the EPA, Virginia’s secretary of natural resources describes the bay’s cleanup costs as an “unfunded mandate” on the commonwealth, localities, homeowners and the business community.

“It is important to emphasize again that this plan is being developed during the worst economy in generations,” Douglas W. Domenech wrote. He added that the success of the program will hinge on “sufficient federal funding” to carry it through.

The plan identifies strategies to reduce levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment entering the bay from a variety of sources.

The EPA is not expected to respond for weeks to individual state plans. The agency has threatened to punish states if they don’t submit plans deemed sufficient to do the job.

The Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, a leading critic of mandated measures to keep farm runoff from flowing in the bay, took a measured approach on the latest plan.

“The ink is not dry and it remains to be seen if the plan will balance our desire for water quality with a stable economic future,” the Farm Bureau’s Wilmer Stoneman III wrote in an e-mail from the federation’s annual convention in Hot Springs. He added, “The real pain is yet to come.”

The EPA is directing the states within the bay’s 64,000 square mile watershed to develop a pollution diet for the bay to limit agricultural, urban and suburban runoff into the environmentally crippled bay. An estimated 17 million people in six states and Washington, D.C., live within the watershed.

The bay’s health has declined through the years, harming marine life and creating oxygen-depleted dead zones that support no life.

Tolbert said the Virginia plan still calls for too many voluntary initiatives to clean the bay, an approach he said has not done the job through the years. He pointed to voluntary agricultural practices such as fencing to keep cattle from fouling streams and pollution trading programs that allow a factory, for instance, that has reduced pollution to sell credits to another that can’t.

Tolbert said the plan spends too much time lamenting the costs when it should be taking the lead.

“We see a vacuum of leadership,” he said. “The state needs to say enough is enough.”

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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