A Historic Win for Clean Water

Court of Appeals Denies Farm Bureau Group Appeal

(ANNAPOLIS, MD)—A federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals opinion, released today, upholds a lower court decision that affirmed the legality of the multi-state Chesapeake Bay clean-up effort. The historic ruling found in favor of EPA, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), and other intervenors. It will ensure that efforts to clean up local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay will continue. Read the full decision.

"This is a great day for everyone who cares about clean water and the Chesapeake Bay," said CBF President William C. Baker. "In a case challenging EPA's Clean Water Act authorities, the Third Circuit Court in Philadelphia has spoken. The Court affirmed the same, reasoned decision offered by the lower court."

After decades of failed voluntary efforts, and as part of the settlement of a 2008 Clean Water Act lawsuit by CBF in Dec. of 2010, EPA established science-based limits on the pollution fouling the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams (formally known as a Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL). In addition, the states developed individual plans on how to achieve those limits and committed to two-year milestones that outline the actions they will take to achieve those limits, and EPA promised consequences for failure. Together, the limits, plans, and milestones make up the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.

The opinion stated:

"The Chesapeake Bay TMDL will require sacrifice by many, but that is a consequence of the tremendous effort it will take to restore health to the Bay—to make it once again a part of our "land of living," Robert Frost, The Gift Outright line 10—a goal our elected representatives have repeatedly endorsed. Farm Bureau's arguments to the contrary are unpersuasive, and thus we affirm the careful and thorough opinion of the District Court."

"It is now critical that the Governors of the Bay states and the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator exert leadership to fully implement the Blueprint," Baker said. "The U.S. Department of Agriculture must provide additional technical and financial assistance to Pennsylvania in order to accelerate efforts to reduce pollution from agriculture."

Within weeks of the announcement of pollution limits, the American Farm Bureau Federation and others challenged EPA's action in federal court. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation joined the case as a defendant and argued in support of EPA's Clean Water Act authorities.

In that precedent setting case, Judge Sylvia Rambo ruled decisively in favor of EPA. She resoundingly rejected each of the plaintiffs' complaints, affirmed the Blueprint's sound legal standing, and complimented the "cooperative federalism" the states and EPA exhibited in developing the Blueprint.

"Instead of embracing the concept of 'cooperative federalism' and supporting the hard work of the states and EPA to develop science-based pollution limits and individual state plans to achieve those limits, the Farm Bureau and its allies have fought EPA and the States every step of the way, "said CBF Vice President for Litigation, Jon Mueller. "We can only imagine how successful the Bay Blueprint would be if these groups supported rather than opposed efforts to reduce pollution."

Many eyes around the country are watching this case. The dead zones, harmful algal blooms, and human health risks caused by nitrogen and phosphorus pollution occur in waters across the country. Attorneys General from 21 states, many in the mid-West, sided with the Farm Bureau. Weighing in with EPA and CBF were cities from New York to San Francisco; Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia; environmental and conservation groups from Florida to the Great Lakes; and a distinguished group of law professors.

The American Farm Bureau Federation and its allies have 90 days to seek an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Instead, we urge them to put their energy and money into working with us to reduce agricultural pollution—the largest source of pollution degrading the Bay—and to reach what we hope is a common objective—clean water for everyone. If we work together, the goals of the most basic clean water law of the land will be realized," Baker added. "Our waters will be safer, our health protected, and our economies stronger. And, we will have proven that restoration is achievable."

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