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Published September 04, 2012, 10:02 AM

Protecting the Chesapeake Bay

Farming is a tough business — no one can deny that. Regardless of whether you run a large-scale operation or a small family farm, many in the agriculture community have felt the effects of tightening federal regulations.

By: Bob Goodlatte and Tim Holden, Agweek

WASHINGTON — Farming is a tough business — no one can deny that. Regardless of whether you run a large-scale operation or a small family farm, many in the agriculture community have felt the effects of tightening federal regulations. Producers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are no different. With new environmental regulations looming, there is much uncertainty for those who call the watershed home.

The Chesapeake Bay watershed stretches across portions of six states — New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia — as well as the District of Columbia. Home to more than 17 million people, the watershed includes all types of land uses, from intensely urban areas to rural farmland. Whether you live in the Susquehanna River Valley of Pennsylvania or the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, everyone has a role to play in restoring and protecting the bay, a valuable natural resource. The goal of all involved is the same: the continued health and vitality of the bay. However, the methods proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reach this goal would limit economic growth and unfairly over-regulate local agriculture producers and economies.

The EPA’s Total Maximum Daily Load, which sets the limit on the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment discharged into the Chesapeake Bay and each of its tributaries by different types of sources, has far-reaching impacts on all of those who live, work and farm in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. This is not a Democrat versus Republican issue or rural versus urban. In addition to the agriculture community, local and state governments, homebuilders and businesses would be affected by the EPA’s regulations. It has the potential to cost localities millions of dollars to comply, while adding compliance costs for producers already hard-hit in this economy. Fixing this problem requires a truly integrated and flexible approach that is economically achievable.

In March, we introduced the Chesapeake Bay Program Reauthorization and Improvement Act (H.R. 4153). This bipartisan legislation addresses water quality concerns and provides agriculture producers the tools and certainty they need to implement conservation practices on their land. H.R. 4153 gives all sectors the flexibility to meet their regulatory requirements, while ensuring the strength and vitality of local economies.

Instead of overregulation and intrusion into the lives and livelihoods of those who choose to make the bay watershed their home, our legislation allows states and communities more flexibility and sets up programs to give farmers, homebuilders and localities new ways to meet their water quality goals. This includes preserving current intrastate nutrient trading programs that many bay states already have in place, while also creating a voluntary interstate nutrient trading program. Additionally, H.R. 4153 creates a voluntary assurance program for farmers. Under the bill, farmers would be deemed fully in compliance with their water quality requirements as long as they have undertaken appropriate conservation activities to comply with state and federal water quality standards.

H.R. 4153 ensures federal agencies are using common sense when regulating water quality goals for localities. The legislation requires the regulators to take into account the availability, cost, effectiveness and appropriateness of practices, techniques or methods in meeting water quality goals. The bill also calls for more oversight of the Chesapeake Bay Program and a review of the EPA’s Bay Model.

America’s farmers have long been some of the most responsible and proactive environmental stewards, and, rightfully so, the people who call the Chesapeake Bay watershed home are the ones who are the most concerned about protecting and restoring this natural resource. Producers need to be assured that by doing what is required of them, they are actually improving water quality and wildlife habitat in the Chesapeake Bay and not opening themselves up to unnecessary penalties and economic burdens. We can restore the bay while also maintaining the economic livelihood of communities in the watershed. The Chesapeake Bay Program Reauthorization and Improvement Act is the way we can do both.

Editor’s Note: Goodlatte, R-Va., and Holden D-Pa., serve on the House Agriculture Committee.