“Facts really do matter, but EPA doesn’t take them into consideration,” claimed Carl Shaffer, an American Farm Bureau Federation board of directors member, during the hearing.
His organization recently filed a lawsuit to try to block EPA’s new pollution “diet” (or Total Maximum Daily Load) needed to restore water quality in the Chesapeake Bay. And the farm lobby’s allies in the U.S. House (led by Congressman Robert Goodlatte of Virginia, pictured above) voted to strip all EPA funding next year for implementing these limits.
So, what’s behind this assertion -– repeated several times during today’s hearing -- that the EPA has its facts wrong with regard to agricultural pollution?
Well, back in December, a consulting firm called LimnoTech issued a report called “Comparison of Draft Load Estimates for Cultivated Cropland in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed” that criticized the computer model that EPA used to develop the new pollution limits.
You should know, right off the bat, that the LimnoTech report was bankrolled by the same agribusiness lobby that is trying to stop the Chesapeake Bay cleanup. The report was released by the Agricultural Nutrient Policy Council, which is chaired by a staff member at the American Farm Bureau Federation, and includes members from the Fertilizer Institute, the National Pork Producers Council, the National Corn Growers Association, and the Agribusiness Retailers.
In other words, not exactly the clean water alliance.
The LimnoTech report compared the Chesapeake Bay Program watershed model (used by EPA to create the new pollution limits) to the first draft of a model used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Effects Assessment Project, and concludes that the differences between the two models undermines the credibility of the EPA pollution limits.
That claim is “totally without merit….like comparing apples to oranges,” according to an analysis of the LimnoTech report by Dr. Beth McGee, Senior Scientist for the Chesaspeake Bay Foundation. “Not only is the Chesapeake Bay Program Watershed Model a fully valid basis for the (EPA pollution limits), the (U.S. Department of Agriculture) report reaffirms the need for agriculture to do far more to reduce its water quality impacts.”
Dr. McGee dismantles the farm lobby’s misleading claims, and exposes them for the delay tactics they really are.
Copied below is her full analysis:
THE LIMNOTECH REPORT:
A FAULTY AND MISLEADING DISTRACTION
Beth McGee, Ph. D
Senior Scientist, Chesapeake Bay Foundation
In December 2010, the Agricultural Nutrient Policy Council (ANPC) released a report, prepared by LimnoTech, entitled “Comparison of Draft Load Estimates for Cultivated Cropland in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.” The ANPC is chaired by the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Director of Regulatory Services, Don Parrish. Other steering committee members include: The Fertilizer Institute, the National Pork Producers Council, the National Corn Growers Association and the Agribusiness Retailers Association.
The LimnoTech report levied criticisms at the computer model used by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop the Chesapeake Bay ‘pollution diet’ or Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). Specifically, the report compared the Chesapeake Bay Program (CBP) Partnership’s Watershed Model to one used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in its Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) report for the Chesapeake Bay Region. LimnoTech alleges that differences between the two modeling efforts draw into question the validity of using the CBP Watershed model to develop the Bay TMDL. This contention is completely without merit. Not only is the CBP Watershed Model a fully valid basis for the TMDL, the CEAP report reaffirms the need for agriculture to do far more to reduce its water quality impacts.
The CBP Watershed Model and the CEAP model were developed for two different purposes. The CBP Watershed Model was created as a management decision-making tool to assist with the development of the TMDL and includes comparable information about multiple pollution sources. The CEAP model is more narrowly focused on evaluating the effects of conservation practices on cropland. Because they were developed independently to achieve different goals, it is not surprising the modeling framework and several model parameters (e.g., hydrology, time frame, spatial scale) differ. Hence, comparing the models is like comparing apples to oranges.
At its core, the LimnoTech report is an attempt by national agribusiness lobbying groups to discredit the Chesapeake Bay TMDL and delay efforts to clean up the region’s rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay. The Bay TMDL is a scientifically-based tool developed over a decade in collaboration with numerous federal, state, and academic partners using a state of the art model that peer reviews have validated time and time again. ANPC’s efforts to undermine the TMDL by attacking the credibility of the CBP Watershed Model distracts us from the real issue that agriculture, like all other sources of pollution, must do more if we are to restore the Chesapeake and the rivers that feed it.
1. The LimnoTech report is fundamentally wrong to compare the CBP Watershed Model’s estimates of TMDL caps for agriculture with the CEAP model’s agricultural pollution loads.
LimnoTech presents, on the front page of its report, graphs that compare pollution load estimates from cropland for the CBP Watershed Model and CEAP model to the Bay TMDL pollution caps or limits for each pollutant that agriculture is responsible for achieving. This comparison is misleading and inappropriate. As noted above, the two models’ designs are inherently different.
By way of example, let’s say you go shopping for a new suit and are alarmed to find that you no longer fit into a size 8 of your favorite brand. Now you are a size 10. You decide, on the spot, to lose weight so you can fit into a size 8. The same day, you go into another store and try on a size 8 of a different brand and it fits. Does that mean you don’t need to lose weight? No! It means the brands are sized differently and to gauge your progress on losing weight, you should compare your ability to fit into your favorite brand.
In the case of the CEAP and CBP Watershed models, differences in things like time frames, rainfall inputs, and averaging period mean that the outputs from the models will be different. Directly comparing the estimated pollution loads from one model, with the TMDL pollution limits estimated by another, is not scientifically valid or appropriate.
2. Differences in land use are explainable.
The LimnoTech report indicates that the CBP Watershed Model assumes there are 41.1 million acres of land in the watershed while the CEAP model uses an estimate of 42.49 million acres. The reason why the CEAP model figure is higher is because it includes areas that are not inside the Bay watershed; e.g., this estimate includes most of the land on the Delmarva Peninsula, only part of which is in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. If one reconciles the differences, the estimates used for each model are very similar.
Furthermore, differences in estimated acreages of cropland are also explainable if one considers the above differences in the acreage estimates for the watershed as well as the fact that LimnoTech compared crop data from the CBP Watershed Model from 2009 to data from 2003-2006 in the CEAP model. The LimnoTech report fails to highlight these important differences.
3. The LimnoTech report fails to note that differences in estimates of acreage under conservation tillage are a reporting issue, not a modeling issue.
Some have suggested that agricultural practices that are implemented voluntarily (i.e., without state or federal cost-share assistance) are not being counted and reported by the states to EPA and thus not included in the CBP Watershed Model. The CEAP report based its rate of practice implementation on farmer surveys; i.e., on what a farmer says he/she is doing in the field. There is great interest from EPA, USDA, and the Bay jurisdictions in better quantification and accounting of implemented practices, particularly cover crops and no-till, that farmers often implement without cost-share assistance. USDA and EPA have agreed to work cooperatively to address this issue. This commitment is also contained within the Strategy for Protecting and Restoring the Chesapeake Bay developed in response to the Chesapeake Bay Executive Order (13508).
Thus, this omission of implementation data in the CBP Watershed Model is a reporting issue, not a flaw in the model as concluded by LimnoTech. As verified implementation data are acquired, the CBP Watershed Model will be updated to include this new information. This omission, however, has no bearing on the TMDL allocations, another point LimnoTech fails to acknowledge.
4. LimnoTech is wrong when it concludes EPA “moved 20 percent of land out of crop production to pasture or forest to help achieve the allocations in the TMDL.”
This statement typifies a number of inaccuracies found throughout the LimnoTech report. The Bay TMDL was based on the Bay jurisdictions’ watershed implementation plans, which detail the management measures those jurisdictions conclude are necessary to achieve the TMDL allocations. The jurisdictions, not the EPA, made the decisions about conversion of cropland to pasture, hayland, forest, or forested buffers. LimnoTech is wrong to state otherwise.
It is important to note that the overall conclusions drawn from both the USDA CEAP report and the CBP Watershed Model about agricultural runoff and Bay restoration are entirely consistent. We have made progress to date, reducing nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution from agricultural runoff. More is left to be done, and the deadline is 2025.
We can achieve even greater reductions from the agricultural sector by implementing basic soil conservation and nutrient management plans on the region’s cropland. The fact that two entirely different models, with different assumptions and inputs, have reached the same overall conclusion is quite reaffirming in terms of the management decisions we are making to clean up the region’s waterways.