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Fertilizer Industry Lobby Points Finger at the Chesapeake Bay Oyster

DSC_0283Blame oysters for the Bay's troubles. Who would make such an argument?

Curiously enough, the Fertilizer Institute, a lobbying organization for the fertilizer industry. These Washington DC-based fertilizer lobbyists have joined with other agricultural and development industry groups in suing EPA to stop new pollution limits for the Chesapeake Bay (also called the Bay Total Maximum Daily Load).

During a forum with farm radio broadcasters in Southern Maryland on Tuesday, Bill Herz, a vice president of the Fertilizer Institute, tried to muddy the waters about the significant role of fertilizer in the Bay’s health problems. Herz (shown above at right) claimed that the science is too uncertain, and the whole subject is so complex, these new federal pollution limits should be put on hold. His assertion is disputed by EPA, leading scientists, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which on Friday asked the courts to dismiss the Fertilizer Institute’s lawsuit.

One of Herz’ more curious suggestions was that EPA should not focus so much on fertilizer runoff pollution because of the Bay’s oyster problem.  (Fertilier pollution is also called "nutrient" pollution, because fertilizers nourish not only crops on farms, but also excessive growth of algae that chokes the Bay and other waterways).

“One of the complexities about nutrient pollution in general is that... there are many other factors that come into play,” Herz told about 40 radio reporters and others during a panel discussion. “And one of the complications in the Chesapeake Bay is these factors. It's the same in the Gulf of Mexico. As we change these ecosystems, we lose 90 percent of the filter feeding population in the Bay. If we have that oyster population back, what would that mean in terms of the nutrient load?”

Well, yes, it would be great for the Bay’s health to restore the Bay’s depleted oyster populations. And the federal and state governments, along with CBF and others, are working hard to plant more oysters and create more sanctuaries to do this.

But that doesn’t mean that nutrient pollution into the Bay shouldn’t also be substantially reduced. Nutrient pollution -- including runoff of products manufactured by the fertilizer industry -- is the No. 1 cause of the Bay’s ills. EPA’s pollution limits for the Bay call for an approximately 25 percent reduction in nutrient pollution by 2025, and the Fertilizer Institute and its partners have sued to prevent those reductions. Why? Because the Fertilizer Institute has profits at stake.

"The Fertilizer Institute, the National Chicken Council, the National Pork Producers, the National Association of Homebuilders, and other national organizations are seeking to maximize the economic interests of a few at the expense of all whose health and economic survival depends on the water quality of local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay," said Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William C. Baker, in response to the Fertilizer Institute's lawsuit.

Baker appeared with Herz during the panel discussion on Tuesday, and praised the efforts of many Bay region farmers. The event with farm broadcasters was generally a positive discussion about how local farmers are making a difference by reducing erosion and taking other steps to reduce runoff pollution.

But Baker called out the Fertilizer Institute for its lawsuit to stop the Bay pollution limits (the Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL), and for the Institute’s claims that what it wanted –- more than anything –- was dialogue.

“I would ask, why 11 days after the TMDL was signed –- and all the states signed on, and everybody agreed, and there was a lot of celebration. Why 11 days -– only 11 days into it -– did the American Farm Bureau sue, and you all join that suit?” Baker asked.

Herz danced around the question, replying that there wasn’t enough information available to create pollution limits. Then he tried to change the subject, saying: “Plants are very much like humans. They need balanced nutrition. And if we are not paying attention to what that limiting nutrient is, then we become focused on N & P (nitrogen and phosphorus) alone.”

Huh? The bottom line is that the Fertilizer Institute doesn’t really want people to focus on nutrients, nitrogen and phosphorus. And so it is pointing the finger at oysters and anything else that will obscure the truth.

And that truth is that we all -- including fertilizer manufacturers -- need pollution limits if the health of the Chesapeake Bay is to recover.

By Tom Pelton

Chesapeake Bay Foundation



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