State pollution permitting must be reformed for climate change

Recent extreme weather — hurricanes Harvey and Florence — caused widespread toxic contamination of floodwaters after low-lying chemical plants, coal ash storage facilities and hog waste lagoons were inundated.

Such storm-driven chemical disasters demonstrate that state water pollution permitting programs are overdue for reforms that account for stronger and more intense hurricanes and heavy rainfall events, sea level rise and extreme heat.

As the Chesapeake Bay watershed states and the District of Columbia prepare their final watershed implementation plans for cleaning up the Bay, two important lessons should be clear from the recent disasters. First, climate change will greatly complicate Bay cleanup efforts and must therefore be factored into planning. Second, the state regulation of pollution sources can and should be a critical component of the plan.

The potential pollution implications of climate change are many and varied for the Bay watershed

Where sunny-day flooding now occurs on a weekly basis in parts of D.C., Maryland and Virginia, accelerating sea levels will cause nuisance flooding on a near-daily basis in the next 20–30 years.

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