Federal legislation is scheduled to expire at the end of this month that provides money for farm runoff pollution control projects that are critical to the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay.
But the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have been locked in disagreement over how long to continue and how much to cut federal Farm Bill, which provides this funding (with the costs shared by farmers) for these erosion control efforts, according to an article in the Bay Journal.
A few hundred farmers rallied outside the Capitol on Wednesday to protest the inability of lawmakers to agree on a new Farm Bill.
“Whether Congress passes a short-term extension, or ultimately passes a full five-year-bill, the stakes for the Bay region are huge,” Karl Blankenship wrote in the Bay Journal. “Agriculture is the largest single source of nutrient pollution to the Chesapeake, and the Farm Bill has historically been the largest funding source to help farmers install stream buffers, build manure storage facilities, plant cover crops and take other actions that help keep nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment from reaching waterways.”
During the protests in Washington DC over the Congressional deadlock, Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan and the head of the Senate Agriculture Committee, told a cheering crowd: “American wants us to work together to get it done for rural America,” The New York Times reported.
Cuts in federal funding for farm runoff pollution control efforts are being considered nationally. The the Senate version of the proposed Farm Bill would provide $58 billion for farm conservation programs (which reduce runoff pollution) over 10 years, and the House version would provide $57.7 billion, the Bay Journal reported. Both figures represent a reduction of about $6 billion from the amount provided in the 2008 Farm Bill.
For years, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has been partnering with the region's farmers, working closely with them to put in place cost-effective land conservation practices. CBF has been advocating for cost-share funding to make sure regional farmers have enough money to pay for pollution control projects.
These efforts have become all the more important since December 2010, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued new pollution limits for the nation’s largest estuary that require each sector –- including farms –- to do its fair share in reducing pollution.
In response, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and the other Bay states have issued pollution reduction plans to meet these plans that are like blueprints for cleaning up the Bay. But without adequate funding, through the Farm Bill and other sources, putting these blueprints into action will be more difficult.
So once the dust clears from the November elections, federal lawmakers must put their heads together and find a way to approve a Farm Bill that will save the Bay….and not sink Bay restoration.
By Tom Pelton
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
(Photo at top from Chesapeake Bay Program)