The Environmental Protection Agency building in Washington, D.C. Photo by Michael McCloskeyThe Environmental Protection Agency building in Washington, D.C. Photo by Michael McCloskey

American Farm Bureau et al v. EPA

The Irony of the Farm Bureau's Efforts

The agricultural industry's aggressive efforts to make sure the federal government cannot deliver clean water in the Chesapeake watershed is particularly ironic since it currently receives more than $20 billion a year in federal subsidies, and has little or no accountability for controlling pollution running into the nation's waterways. The result is a diminished quality of life for all Americans.

Attempts to overturn the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint must not succeed.

Federal Court Ruling Affirms Chesapeake Bay Blueprint

On September 13, 2013, Pennsylvania Federal Judge Sylvia Rambo issued a ruling upholding Bay clean-up efforts and rejecting the arguments of the Farm Bureau, the National Association of Home Builders, and other big agriculture interests. The ruling affirmed that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), working with the states, has the authority to set science-based pollution limits for the Chesapeake Bay.  (View a summary of the ruling or the complete 99-page order)

Judge Rambo's decision clearly rejected all three of the Farm Bureau's complaints. The common theme in the court's decision is that the established pollution limits exemplify cooperative federalism between EPA and the states at every stage of the process.

Here's a look at each stage of the case.

Industry Groups File a Complaint Against EPA

It started less than two weeks after EPA established pollution limits for the Bay (known legally in the Clean Water Act as a Total Maximum Daily Load or TMDL). The American Farm Bureau Federation and the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau filed a complaint in federal court to throw out the limits.

Not long after the original complaint was filed, the two initiating groups were joined by

  • the National Association of Home Builders,
  • the National Chicken Council,
  • the National Corn Growers Association,
  • the National Pork Producers Council,
  • the National Turkey Federation,
  • The Fertilizer Institute, and
  • the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association.

In the case, known as American Farm Bureau et al v. EPA, the plaintiffs made three complaints:

  1. that the pollution limits or TMDL exceeded EPA’s authority,
  2. that they were based on faulty science, and
  3. that the public did not have adequate time to participate in the comment process.

CBF Senior Writer and Bay Daily blogger, Tom Pelton, roundly rejected the validity of these complaints in his post on January 10, 2011

CBF and Allies Step In

In May 2011, CBF filed a motion to intervene  in the case in support of EPA, the Blueprint process, and, specifically, the pollution limits. CBF was joined by five other groups:

  • Citizen's for Pennsylvania's Future,
  • Defenders of Wildlife,
  • Jefferson County (WV) Public Service District,
  • Midshore River Keeper Conservancy, and
  • the National Wildlife Federation.

In October of that year, CBF filed a response to the Farm Bureau's and Homebuilder's motions and offered oral arguments before U.S. District Court Judge Sylvia H. Rambo. Judge Rambo granted CBF and its allies' request to intervene.

The Court's Decision

The Court affirmed that the pollution limits that EPA established in December 2010 for the Chesapeake Bay are within the Agency's purview and based on sound science, and that the Farm Bureau and Homebuilders had ample time to review and comment on the proposed limits. In a thorough and meticulous 98-page opinion, Judge Rambo addressed each of the Farm Bureau's three arguments and rejected them all in turn. 

  1. EPA has authority under the Clean Water Act to issue pollution limits where the states failed to do so. In fact, the states, through the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council, asked EPA to develop a TMDL in 2007. Judge Rambo's ruling emphasized that the states worked cooperatively with EPA to develop the TMDL, and that the EPA simply allocated pollution limits; the states determined how best to achieve those limits themselves.
  2. The scientific modeling used by EPA to estimate sediment and nutrient loads was sufficient and EPA's use of the data used in the model is entitled to deference.
  3. The 45-day public comment period was sufficient and in fact, only a 30-day period was required.

View a summary of the ruling or the complete 99-page order.

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