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The Farm Bureau's Attack on Clean Water Laws

Cows National agricultural lobbyists have filed a lawsuit to overturn EPA’s new “pollution diet” to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.  During a speech at a meeting in Atlanta, American Farm Bureau president Bob Stallman described his group’s wide-ranging “battle” against EPA. He depicted his enemy as an over-reaching federal government determined to trample on states' rights.

“Our message to the new Congress is clear: It is time to stop the EPA,” Stallman said, before his group filed a lawsuit against EPA in a Pennsylvania federal court.  “This legal effort... is essential to preserving the power of the states -– not EPA -– to decide whether and how to regulate farming practices.”
Stallman’s rhetoric gives the impression that EPA invented some new sweeping regulatory authority when it released the new pollution limits for the Bay last month, called the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL.

In fact, the authority for these TMDL’s is nothing new -– it goes back almost four decades, to the 1972 federal Clean Water Act. 

This law says that it is the responsibility of the federal government (not just the states) to ensure that the nation's waterways are "fishable and swimmable."  And section 303 (d) of the law requires states to create lists of waterways that are impaired for pollution, and then for the states to work with the federal government to create pollution limits (TMDL's) for these waterways.

So the American Farm Bureau Federation’s real beef is not with the Obama Administration, it’s with the federal law.  If this is all about "states' rights," that issue was decided by the U.S. Congress long ago.

In 1998, the EPA and Bay area states officially designated the Chesapeake Bay as "impaired" with nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution under Section 303 (d) of the federal Clean Water Act.

The fact that it took 12 years for EPA to finally get around to following through with that "impaired" designation and creating the TMDL for the Bay is a testimony to how badly these pollution limits are needed. 

In the interim, deadlines to clean up the Chesapeake Bay by 2000 and 2010 were missed by wide margins. Now, finally, EPA has stepped up and done its job by issuing the TMDL for the Bay (urged on, in part, by a successful lawsuit from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.)

Here’s another misleading thing about the Farm Bureau’s rhetoric.  The Bay TMDL created the pollution limits, including a 25 percent reduction in nitrogen, for example. But EPA left it up to the states to decide how they would go about meeting the new limits -– through the planting of cover crops to absorb excess fertilizer, for example, or the creation of filter strips of trees along streams on farms.

So it was not an example of the federal government dictating local farming practices.  In fact, the states –- not the federal government -- are still in control of most regulation for farms. There has been no change there.  The one exception is water pollution from large confined animal feeding operations, which has been regulated by the federal government for years.

So what is it the Farm Bureau is really fighting against?  Federal laws that have been on the books since the Nixon Administration, and the logic that says these laws should finally be implemented –- for the good of everyone who depends on clean water.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is considering whether to intervene in the case, to fight for the protection of the Bay.

"The choice (by the Farm Bureau) to sue at this point is but another disappointing example of the Farm Bureau’s role as a high-powered lobbying group intent on misrepresenting the facts and frustrating the process of cleaning up the Bay and its rivers," CBF said in a written statement.

By Tom Pelton

Chesapeake Bay Foundation

 (Photo from iStockphoto)


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This is just the begining with the push back. Home builders next? Lawn care folks then to follow?

I've been reading more and more about subsidies for agriculture, grazing, forestry, etc., and more than ever, I am truly appalled. Why don't we clearly itemize and publicize just how much the federal government gives away in subsidies annually to US farmers and then inform the lobbyists that any lawsuit will have to be fought using the money that was to go to them.

Every farm in the Bay watershed should be inventoried for their environmental impact on their local streams. Every farm should be at some level of baseline compliance: animal concentration areas addressed, soil loss to "T" and every farm having conservation & manure management plans. After inventorying the farm; their impact should be given an environmental assessment value similar to the program I development for the Fulton County CD. Once preformed you could track where improvements are needed. I am very willing to share this program and am very interested in discussing it with anyone at anytime. If we don't know where the problems are; how will be every address them.

Thanks, Doug. I know I've asked you this before, but for the general readers out there -- feel free to provide a website or email address if you want the readers to check out your program or contact you.

Ashley: I agree completely. The amount of the federal subsidies is large and disturbing -- especially if farm lobbyists then attack the federal government and insist that the feds "get off their back." It seems to me that people who receive government money should be perfectly willing to meet government water pollution control standards that help not only farming communities, but the general population.

For anyone who would like to learn more about our Inventory - Assessment & Planning Tool; please feel free to contact me at: dvalentine@myactv.net. All of the talk about addressing accountability: I have not seen anything concrete in the way of a tracking mechanism. We need a procedure where we can track farms sub-watershed by sub-watershed (3000-4000 acres). I will never have any confidence in addressing water quality to our streams until there is a mechanism similar to our procedure.

Tom, Nice response to this ridiculous posturing by the Farm Bureau. As anybody who knows anything about the Clean Water Act, the EPA has no means of regulating normal agricultural activity. The only thing that has changed now that the TMDL has been issued for the Bay is that states may be motivated to impose some regulation to meet their obligations.

The Environmental Working Group maintains a database of federal subsidies for agriculture for each state. They have a tremendous amount of information available at http://farm.ewg.org/top_recips.php?fips=24000&progcode=total&yr=2009&regionname=Maryland

Thanks, Drew. I'll check out that site -- sounds valuable.

Strange. They don't seem to complain about federal involvement in agriculture when it comes to billions of dollars in farm subsidies. Why don't we let states provide those along with the regulations?

It seems to me that people who obtain govt money should be completely willing to satisfy govt water quality control requirements that help not only gardening areas, but the common people.

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