The Farm Bureau Had It Wrong on Chesapeake Bay Clean-Up

Rockville Bridge Susquehanna river Harrisburg PA
Rockville Bridge, Susquehanna river, Harrisburg, PA. Photo by Miguel Angel de la Cueva/iLCP.

The following op-ed first appeared in The Patriot-News earlier this week.

The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau makes the case in its recent op-ed (Pa. Farm Bureau wants court protection from EPA 'sledgehammer': As I See It, Patriot News, Feb. 25), that the EPA has over-reached its authority. 

Acknowledging that EPA has the authority to set pollution limits, it goes on to say, "But we object to the notion that a TMDL gives EPA free reign over what state and local governments must do, how much they must do, and when they must do it."

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation respectfully disagrees with the Farm Bureau and agrees with the Patriot News editorial board (Distant states' governors should nose out of Pa's anti-pollution effort: Editorial, Feb. 10).

A little background. After years of failed agreements and several lawsuits to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, and the rivers and streams that feed it, the Bay states asked EPA to develop what's called a Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL

The TMDL sets the maximum pollution that rivers and the Bay can withstand and still be healthy. The states then worked with EPA to assess how much pollution each state needs to reduce.

Knowing the numbers of pounds of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution that needed to be reduced to meet the TMDL, each state developed its own plan for how it could achieve the reductions. The choices were made by the states, based on how each state thought the reductions could best be achieved. All EPA did was supply the pounds that the state must reduce and require that the plans demonstrate reasonable assurance that they could succeed.

And it is working. Together the pollution limits, clean-up plans, and two-year milestones each state sets to track its progress are a Clean Water Blueprint that is being implemented across the region.

Farmers in Pennsylvania are making common-sense changes to their farms that benefit both their bottom line and their local stream. 

By doing things like planting cover crops on fields during the fall and winter, which preserve fertile soils from erosion or planting a buffer of trees to protect streams, they are showing that protecting water quality and farming can go hand in hand.

Communities like Lancaster City and a number of municipalities led by the York County Planning Department are looking at their communities differently and finding opportunities to reduce polluted runoff in ways that make their community more livable and ultimately help clean up the Susquehanna River.

EPA is not "micromanaging" activities in the watershed. Rather, Pennsylvania is implementing the plan the Commonwealth developed and there is nothing in the TMDL that dictates where farming may occur or where homes can be built.

In 2011, the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau joined the American Farm Bureau Federation and other agricultural interests, like the Fertilizer Institute and the National Pork Producers Association, and sued EPA in federal court in Harrisburg. They questioned the science, claimed EPA over-reach, and suggested insufficient opportunity for public comment.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and others joined the suit on EPA's side and argued the case in front of federal Judge Sylvia Rambo. In her exhaustive, 98-page opinion she dismissed all of the Farm Bureau's claims. In fact, she held up the process the states and EPA used as an example of the "cooperative federalism" that the Clean Water Act intended.

The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau has joined an appeal to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, and recently 21 state attorneys general and eight counties (five in Pennsylvania) filed "friend of the court" briefs in support of the appeal

In their brief, the states raise the concern that if the Blueprint is not stopped, similar clean-up plans might occur in the states that drain into the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico.

In their op-ed, the PA Farm Bureau highlighted those counties support as bolstering their case. They did not mention that among those supporting EPA is the Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association, representing 700 municipal authorities across the state.

This is a very exciting time for those of us who value clean water. Progress is being made, pollution is being reduced, and jobs are being created to achieve the clean-water goals. 

We are confident that Judge Rambo's decision will be upheld and that we will be able to leave a legacy of clean rivers and streams to our children and future generations.

--Kim Coble
Vice President of Environmental Protection and Restoration, 
Chesapeake Bay Foundation

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Kim Coble

Issues in this Post

Agriculture   Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint   Conservation   Pennsylvania Office  



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