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Mr. Chairman, Has the EPA gone too far?

PD Staff Published on 07 April 2011

Committee on Agriculture Chairman Frank D. Lucas delivered the following in an opening statement at a March 10 hearing to review the impact of EPA regulations on agriculture:

“There is a reason the top issue for nearly every member of the Agriculture Committee is related to the regulatory agenda of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The reason is simple: Many members of this committee believe over the past two years the EPA has pursued an agenda seemingly absent of consideration for the consequences it would have on rural America and production agriculture.

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The agency is creating regulations and policies that are burdensome, overreaching and that negatively affect jobs and rural economies.”

Six days later, Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy and Forestry held a public hearing to review the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), agricultural practices and their implications on national watersheds.

Members of the subcommittee highlighted the importance of conservation programs and their impact on the health of the Chesapeake Bay, as well as the voluntary steps farmers have taken to preserve and protect this watershed.

There are concerns that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is not recognizing the contribution producers have made to ensuring a healthy bay. Additionally, there are concerns that EPA is not considering the economic consequences of its Chesapeake Bay cleanup program on the agricultural community.

Further, there are concerns that EPA could use the process from this effort and eventually apply it to other watersheds across the country, since the agency considers the Chesapeake Bay program a model.

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Here are excerpts of testimony presented during the hearing.

“It is imperative to our farmers that EPA … provides credit in the Bay model for all farm BMPs, not just those funded with public cost-share and that they provide nutrient and sediment reduction values for these BMPs. We recognize that BMPs that do not meet NRCS standards will have lower nutrient reductions – but they must be counted.

Without a true accounting in the Bay model of what has already been achieved – there cannot be an accurate determination of what more can, or needs to, be done.”

Lynne Hoot
Executive director, Maryland Association of Soil Conservation Districts, Maryland Grain Producers Association

“This subcommittee has worked for a long time to make sure Chesapeake Bay farmers, who already face some of the most stringent environmental regulations in the U.S., are put on the same level of playing field as those in other regions. I’m concerned that once again Bay farmers are being placed at a financial and competitive disadvantage through the TMDL.

Without sharing all information used to develop load allocations and despite glaring discrepancies between data collected by various government agencies, EPA is moving forward with increased regulation at a rapid pace. It is important that EPA begin to work with farmers and ranchers, who have always been the best advocates for resource conservation, to ensure environmental stewardship across the Chesapeake Bay Watershed while minimizing burdens on producers.”

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Tim Holden
Ranking Member (D-PA)

“Let me begin by saying that farmers have never felt more challenged and more anxious about the future of their operations than they do today. This is because of the continuous onslaught of regulations, guidance and other requirements being issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Some say EPA simply wants to control how individuals farm. EPA claims that is not the case. But whether or not this is EPA’s intent, it clearly will be the result.

The outcome of EPA’s requirements will be to drive production costs so high that many farms face a heightened risk of going out of business. And although EPA promulgates regulations in the name of ‘environmental protection,’ we assert that very little real environmental gain will result.”

Carl Shaffer
President, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau

“Many in the agricultural community have been deeply concerned that the process and speed with which EPA was moving to conclude the TMDL rulemaking was going to encumber sound and accurate supporting analysis.

“These were not just hypothetical concerns. They stemmed directly from things we learned in public meetings with EPA staff about how agriculture was being addressed in the Chesapeake Bay Model and its associated ‘Scenario Builder.’

“Concerns about the accuracy of EPA’s estimates for agriculture’s baseline contributions of nutrients and sediments to the Bay translate directly into concerns about the accuracy of the reductions in loads EPA would expect of farmers and ranchers under the Bay TMDL.”

Tom Hebert
Senior advisor, Agricultural Nutrient Policy Council

“NRCS, in partnership with the states, will complete an evaluation of the Chesapeake Bay priority watersheds and identify any revisions to the priority list by October 2012 and every two years thereafter until 2025.

The strategy for implementing the executive order on Chesapeake Bay, published in May 2010, identifies the goal of working with producers to apply new conservation practices on four million acres of agricultural working lands in priority watersheds by 2025. While this goal is ambitious, NRCS believes that by focusing resources on priority watersheds and within those watersheds on priority lands, accelerating partnerships and fully accounting for conservation practices, we can achieve a dramatic reduction of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment …

With our resources, the 13 resources of our partners and the resources of producers themselves all leveraged toward improving water quality in the Bay watershed, USDA sees the agricultural community as part of the solution, not just part of the problem.”

Dave White
Chief, Natural Resources Conservation Service

“Virginia submitted our Phase I WIP to EPA on Nov. 29, 2010, and EPA accepted our plan and included it in their TMDL with minor modifications. We crafted a comprehensive and effective plan that allows us to achieve EPA’s pollution reduction goals absent ‘backstops’ threatened by EPA last September in response to our draft plan.

However, as we have stated to EPA directly, Virginia continues to have concerns about the process, legality, allocations and compressed timing in the development of this plan …

“It is important to emphasize that this plan is being developed during the worst economy in generations. Virginians have already invested billions of dollars in Chesapeake Bay water quality improvement to date. As EPA’s numbers demonstrate, significant reductions have taken place in Virginia since the advent of the Chesapeake Bay program, despite a significant increase in population.

“We estimate that full implementation of this plan will likely cost more than 7 billion new dollars between now and 2025. The cost and pace of this mandate on the state, localities, private industries, farmers and homeowners in Virginia will be significant.”

Doug Domenech
Secretary of Natural Resources, Commonwealth of Virginia

“The main sources of nutrient and sediment pollution to the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries are urban and suburban discharges and runoff, agriculture, wastewater and atmospheric deposition. The agricultural sector has done much to reduce nutrient and sediment loadings in the Bay watershed. Both nitrogen and phosphorus loadings from agriculture have declined since 1985; however, significant additional reductions from agriculture and all sectors are needed to meet water quality standards ...

“In developing the TMDL, our plan was always to have allocations based on states’ strategies (i.e. WIPs) and to provide the states with flexibility to let them lead the way in determining how to reduce pollution and from what sectors. The final TMDL is a product of close EPA state collaboration and is largely based on the allocations and actions included in each of the state’s final Phase I WIPs.”

Bob Perciasepe
Deputy administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

“The main sources of nutrient and sediment pollution to the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries are urban and suburban discharges and runoff, agriculture, wastewater and atmospheric deposition. The agricultural sector has done much to reduce nutrient and sediment loadings in the Bay watershed. Both nitrogen and phosphorus loadings from agriculture have declined since 1985; however, significant additional reductions from agriculture and all sectors are needed to meet water quality standards ...

“In developing the TMDL, our plan was always to have allocations based on states’ strategies (i.e. WIPs) and to provide the states with flexibility to let them
lead the way in determining how to reduce pollution and from what sectors. The final TMDL is a product of close EPA state collaboration and is largely based on the allocations and actions included in each of the state’s final Phase I WIPs.” PD

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