Subcommittee targets EPA Chesapeake Bay pollutant requirements

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, Nov. 3- The House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy and Forestry questioned an EPA administrator today on the implications of Chesapeake Bay Watershed pollutant regulations for the area's producers.  

The hearing focused on the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, specifically Phase II of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs). Congress members agreed taking a close look at these requirements is important, because they could possibly be considered for other watersheds, including the Mississippi River Basin and the Great Lakes.

Chairman Glenn Thompson (R-Penn.) and other members of the subcommittee questioned the cost of these implementations for Chesapeake Bay communities and the accuracy of the computer model the EPA uses to make its requirements.

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“We are in the midst of a process that could cost individual states like Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania more than ten billion dollars per state,” Thompson said.   “What's most problematic is that no one can say with certainty whether the cost is worth the effort, as we still do not have a cost-benefit analysis of this process.”

The implementation of Chesapeake Bay TMDLs affects communities in six states and the District of Columbia within the 64,000-square-mile watershed. States are in the second phase of a three-part process to limit discharge into the Bay. Witnesses at today's hearing believe the process is being driven by arbitrary deadlines set by the EPA instead of scientific assessments. 

The primary purpose of the Phase II Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) is to ensure that local partners playing a key role in cleaning up waterways are ready to help implement the WIPs, according to the “Guide for Chesapeake Bay Jurisdictions for the Developments of the Phase II Watershed Implementation Plans," released in March, 2011.

EPA Region 3 Administrator, Shawn Garvin, said the EPA is working to evolve the model between now and 2017, when the agency will do a wholesale evaluation as a “midcourse check” to achieve the pollutant reduction goals of 2025. However, representations for Chesapeake Bay jurisdictions doubted the reliability of the computer model that determines target load levels. Witnesses at today's hearing said it does not take into account many of the voluntary best management practices that are used by farmers in the watershed.

“For 25 years, farmers have substantially reduced nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment going into the Bay,” said Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) while questioning the EPA administrator at today's hearing. “You admit you don't have a model that works on a finer scale, but you're asking individuals to implement it when it's not ready.”

Garvin testified that EPA's Chesapeake Bay Program Office and National Center for Environmental Economics are scheduled to complete their initial analyses of the costs and benefits by mid-late 2012.

“Some parts of the benefits analysis, however, require more laborious methodological approaches,” Garvin said. “Those parts of the analysis will be completed by the summer of 2013. Both studies will incorporate the final Phase II WIPs, due in March 2012.”

“TMDL is not a regulation,” said Garvin, but a strategy to meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act.
That comment drew a dramatic response from Rep.Bob Goodlatte.
"That's a pretty amazing claim… I find that unbelievable," he told Garvin.

States are expected to develop draft Phase II WIPs by Dec. 15, 2011 with final Phase II WIPs by March 30, 2012. Phase III WIPs, which states will develop by 2017, are expected to provide additional detail on restoration actions beyond 2017 to ensure that the 2025 goals are met. 

In October, the EPA revised its focus for Phase II WIPs, clarifying that “local area targets” can be determined by each state instead of in terms of pounds of pollutant reductions, as originally required by the EPA. 


“We recognize that the agricultural sector has done much to reduce nutrient and sediment loadings in the Bay watershed,” Garvin said. “Although the process and framework of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL may be new, the level of effort to meet the goals has been nearly the same for more than a decade. Implementing the Bay TMDL is simply the next step in this long term effort.”

The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) is among some agricultural groups that filed a lawsuit in federal court in Pennsylvania last January, which challenges the legality of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, but a decision in the case is not expected until next year.


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