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Published January 18, 2011, 10:24 AM

Farm group alleges water standards will hurt agricultural production

ATLANTA — American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman used his annual address to the group’s convention Jan, 9 in Atlanta to announce the Farm Bureau will sue the Environmental Protection Agency to try to stop the agency from using the Clean Water Act to reduce the level of pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Special to Agweek

ATLANTA — American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman used his annual address to the group’s convention Jan, 9 in Atlanta to announce the Farm Bureau will sue the Environmental Protection Agency to try to stop the agency from using the Clean Water Act to reduce the level of pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay.

On Jan. 10, the group filed suit in federal district court in Scranton, Pa.

The suit addresses an EPA announcement that it will use total maximum daily load requirements to put the Chesapeake Bay on a “pollution diet” to restore clean water in the bay and the region’s streams, creeks and rivers.

“EPA likes to call the TMDL a ‘pollution diet,’ but this diet threatens to starve agriculture out of the entire 64,000-square-mile Chesapeake Bay watershed,” Stallman said. “This new approach will not end with the bay. EPA has already revealed its plan to take similar action in other watersheds across the nation, including the Mississippi River watershed.”

EPA officials have said that the move was prompted by insufficient progress in restoring the bay, noting the TMDL is required under federal law and responds to consent decrees in Virginia and the District of Columbia dating back to the late 1990s.

“Today is an historic day for the decades-long effort to restore Chesapeake Bay,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in the Dec. 29 announcement. Most of the plans were developed by officials in the states that border the bay, she said.

Calling for cuts

The EPA regulation identifies reductions of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment from Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and D.C. The “pollution diet” calls for a 25 percent reduction in nitrogen, 24 percent reduction in phosphorus and 20 percent reduction in sediment. The TMDL — which sets bay watershed limits of 185.9 million pounds of nitrogen, 12.5 million pounds of phosphorus and 6.45 billion pounds of sediment per year — is designed to make sure all pollution control measures to fully restore the bay and its tidal rivers are in place by 2025, with at least 60 percent of the actions completed by 2017.

Three contentions

The Farm Bureau Federation said in an news release Jan, 10 it has three basic objections to the TMDL rule.

First, AFBF thinks the rule unlawfully “micromanages” state actions and the activities of farmers, homeowners and businesses within the six-state Chesapeake Bay watershed. Second, Farm Bureau contends that to establish the TMDL, EPA relied on inaccurate assumptions and on a scientific model that EPA itself admits was flawed. Third, the Farm Bureau claims the TMDL violates the Administrative Procedures Act’s prohibition of “arbitrary and capricious” agency action.

Farm Bureau asserts EPA violated the APA requirement that agencies allow meaningful public participation on new rules.

“We will challenge the actions of judges, activists and regulators who use the courts and bureaucracy to hinder the progress and productivity of our farms and ranches,” Stallman said in his speech, noting a federal judge in San Francisco had ordered the entire seed crop of biotech sugar beets to be plowed under.

In other remarks, Stallman took on “food elitists,” who he said are trying to divide farmers into “good farmers and bad farmers,” depending on how they farm. The Farm Bureau is one of 23 groups to form the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, he said, to conduct a public relations campaign to talk to consumers about the food production system.

At a news conference, Stallman said he thinks the new Republican-dominated House of Representatives will make it easier “to keep bad legislation from being passed,” but said the divisions between the Republican-led House, the Democratic-led Senate and the Democratic Obama administration will make it harder “to change things we want changed.”

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