New EPA Reports Examine State Oversight of Agriculture Programs in Virginia and Pennsylvania

CBF: Much more needs to be done to achieve clean-up goals

(ANNAPOLIS, MD)—New reports from the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) examine state programs overseeing animal agricultural facilities as well as actions undertaken by Virginia and Pennsylvania to reduce pollution from agriculture. The reports found that while both states have pieces in place to support pollution reductions, both states have significant deficiencies that will have to be rectified if clean-up goals are to be achieved. The analysis and resulting reports were required as a result of the 2010 settlement of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's (CBF) Clean Water Act lawsuit against EPA.

Agriculture is the largest source of pollution damaging local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay. And, reducing pollution from agriculture is the least expensive way to reduce pollution. Pennsylvania and Virginia are both relying heavily on reducing agricultural pollution to achieve their Clean Water Blueprint goals.

"The states have the primary responsibility to reduce pollution from agriculture and it is up to the states to ensure they have appropriate regulations and that farmers have the tools and resources to do what is necessary," said CBF Vice President Kim Coble.  "We hope these reports will encourage state officials to accelerate actions to reduce pollution from agriculture. If they don't, EPA must hold them accountable."

In Pennsylvania
For years, Pennsylvania has required its smaller farms to have manure management and sediment and erosion control plans to limit runoff of manure fertilizer and soils into rivers and streams. A limited number of on-farm assessments, conducted by EPA and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), found compliance to be shockingly low. Some estimates put compliance rates at 30 percent or less.

The report found that Pennsylvania:

  • Did not meet its 2013 milestone targets, and did not meet agriculture implementation targets for practices like animal waste management and enhanced nutrient application management.
  • Relies on non-regulatory financial and technical assistance, and voluntary compliance.
  • Does not have a consistent approach or sufficient resources to ensure farms are meeting the regulatory requirements.
  • Does not have a compliance assurance strategy and does not appear to be conducting inspections unless a complaint is lodged.

"DEP should be commended for its recent efforts to accelerate farm compliance. But Pennsylvania lacks an achievable strategy to ensure all farms are meeting our clean water laws," said CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director Harry Campbell. "Changing the culture towards compliance requires meaningful resources to support DEP and Conservation District staff, as well as the technical design and implementation of the necessary conservation practices. Without these changes, compliance rates will remain low and the Commonwealth will fail on its clean water commitments at a huge cost to society."

In Virginia
The report is a comprehensive, exhaustive description of Virginia programs intended to reduce pollution from animal agriculture operations.  As noted in the report, Virginia is relying heavily on widespread implementation of a number of priority conservation practices at those operations to achieve the Commonwealth's Clean Water Blueprint goals.

CBF believes that this report clearly demonstrates that the Virginia animal agriculture programs are not sufficient to achieve the blueprint goals.  While we applaud Governor McAuliffe's aggressive advocacy for Virginia's new Resource Management Plan (RMP) program, which requires a number of priority conservation practices, it is too early to assess whether the RMP program will make up for the shortfalls in the other animal agriculture programs.

Virginia does not have the luxury of time as it intends to achieve 79 percent of its pollution reduction goals for the Bay from agriculture.  CBF calls upon the McAuliffe administration to direct the Department of Environmental Quality, the Department of Conservation and Recreation, and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to ensure their animal agriculture programs are implemented to fully achieve the blueprint.

As examples:

  • Virginia's regulatory programs require some, but not all, of the priority conservation practices. And, of the regulated facilities, non-compliance with nutrient management was found at 20 percent of the farms that were inspected.
  • The majority of livestock operations in Virginia have no regulatory oversight and, therefore, Virginia is relying heavily on voluntary and complaint driven programs, including the RMP program, the Agriculture Stewardship Act, and the Small AFO Evaluation and Assessment Strategy, to meet clean water blueprint goals.
  • Virginia's Agriculture Stewardship program fails to provide a comprehensive assessment of polluting farms and does not require priority conservation practices.
  • Virginia's voluntary program for small animal operations also does not require priority conservation practices.

"CBF commends the Commonwealth for maintaining a comprehensive package of regulatory and voluntary programs to reduce pollution from animal agriculture operations and for providing significant funding to assist farmers taking steps to implement priority conservation practices.  We remain concerned, however, that key programs are not sufficiently aligned with the Clean Water Blueprint to ensure adequate management of manure and protect streams across the state from livestock access," said CBF Virginia Executive Director Ann Jennings. "CBF calls on the McAuliffe administration to provide assurances that existing state programs will be sufficient to meet Virginia's Clean Water Blueprint goals and, if not, indicate what steps the administration will take to close the gap."

Reports, like these for Virginia and Pennsylvania, will also be conducted for the other Bay states.

"These reports are an important step in identifying both successes and shortcomings," Coble said. "EPA took a thorough look at the states' programs, and we hope this will lay the foundation for improvements that will help each state achieve the goals they have set."

Copies of the reports are available here: http://www.epa.gov/reg3wapd/tmdl/ChesapeakeBay/EnsuringResults.html — Click on the Agriculture tab.

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