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.
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)