Farm groups appeal Chesapeake Bay ruling
By Sara Wyant
© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.
WASHINGTON, Oct. 8, 2013 - Farm organizations and commodity groups decided to appeal a September 13 court decision, which upheld the Environmental Protection Agency's rights to work with six states in the 64,000 square-mile Chesapeake Bay watershed to restrict nutrients and other pollutants.
“This is a wrongly decided case that has dangerous implications for farmers and many others in the Chesapeake Bay area and nationwide,” said American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) President Bob Stallman.
“This case isn't about whether or not to protect the Chesapeake Bay - we all share that goal. This case is about whether EPA can dictate where farming will be allowed, where homes can be built, and where businesses can be established. By taking over decisions like that, EPA has turned the whole concept of cooperative federalism out the barn door.”"
AFBF and one of its members, the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, originally filed the suit in January 2011 in a federal court in Harrisburg, Penn. They were joined in the lawsuit by the Fertilizer Institute, the National Chicken Council, the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association, National Pork Producers Council, National Corn Growers Association, National Turkey Federation and the National Association of Home Builders.
The National Corn Growers Association President Martin Barbre also weighed in on his association's decision to appeal the lower court's decision.
“We continue to believe the policies and science behind Chesapeake Bay TMDL are wrong and that it goes beyond the scope of Clean Water Act authority. We hope the Third Circuit Court of Appeals will reconsider these arguments and ultimately provide state and local jurisdiction more flexibility to work with agriculture in meeting water quality goals,” Barbre noted in a statement.
The groups seek reversal of a decision by U.S. District Judge Sylvia Rambo that gave EPA wide discretion to work on a so-called “pollution diet.”
“The EPA is within its rights under the Clean Water Act to partner with the six states in the bay watershed to cut the pollution that pours in from sewers and construction developments, and particularly chemical and biological waste from farms,” noted Rambo in her decision.
As part of the plan, states were required to find ways to stop nonpoint source pollution from agricultural sources. But much of the measurement data was in dispute, with two federal agencies - EPA and USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service - showing much different impact from agricultural sources.
Judge Rambo also wrote that “plaintiffs are charged with the heavy burden of showing that the issuance of the Bay TMDL (total maximum daily load) was arbitrary and capricious, and that EPA's use of modeling and data bore no rational relationship to the realities they purport to represent. Having carefully considered Plaintiffs' arguments, and the applicable portions of the administrative record related thereto, the court concludes that Plaintiffs have failed to meet this burden.”
AFBF seeks an appeal to preserve the primary role of states in setting land use policy and determining how to achieve water quality goals, the group noted.
According to AFBF, the Clean Water Act puts states in the drivers' seat to determine how farmers, builders, homeowners and towns will share the responsibility of achieving clean water. EPA's framework puts EPA in control of those decisions.
“Win or lose on appeal, farmers and ranchers will continue their dedicated efforts on the farm to improve water quality and the natural environment,” said Stallman. “In the meantime, AFBF will continue to oppose what we see as a remarkable power grab.”
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