WASHINGTON, July 6, 2015 – An appeals court has upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s limits on pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay, while acknowledging that the regulations will likely hurt farmers. 

The American Farm Bureau Federation, with backing from several commodity groups and the National Association of Home Builders, argued that EPA exceeded its authority by including deadlines and pollutant allocations in the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) plan.

However, a three-judge panel of the 3rdU.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the Farm Bureau’s argument would put the entire the burden of the bay’s cleanup of the bay onto point-source polluters, leaving out non-point agricultural and construction runoff.

The case is being closely watched by states in the Midwest and elsewhere that could be subject to similar regulations. Twenty-one states sided with the Farm Bureau.

In the decision, which upheld a district court ruling, Circuit Judge Thomas Ambro acknowledged that there were winners and losers from the EPA’s plan and that it would require “sacrifice by many.”

“The winners are environmental groups, the states that border the Bay, tourists, fishermen, municipal wastewater treatment works, and urban centers. The losers are rural counties with farming operations, nonpoint source polluters, the agricultural industry, and those states that would prefer a lighter touch from the EPA.”

Watching for more news about the EPA and agriculture? Sign up for an Agri-Pulse four-week free trial subscription. 

The Farm Bureau argued that the Clean Water Act clearly limited EPA to setting a total limit for pollution in the bay, instead of individual limits for farming, construction and other activities as EPA insisted on doing. The group also contended that the cleanup would continue regardless of whether those allocations were allowed to stand.

The court, however, said that the meaning of the words “total maximum daily load” in the law was ambiguous and other requirements of the Clean Water Act suggested TMDL needed to be more than a single number. Sixty percent of the proposed actions in EPA’s plan are supposed to be completed by 2017 and all the pollution control measures are due to be in place by 2025.

"This is a great day for everyone who cares about clean water and the Chesapeake Bay," said William C. Baker, president of the Chesapeake Foundation. "In a case challenging EPA's Clean Water Act authorities, the Third Circuit Court in Philadelphia has spoken. The Court affirmed the same, reasoned decision offered by the lower court."

The Farm Bureau has 90 days to seek an appeal before the Supreme Court. Farm Bureau spokesman Will Rodger said the group was studying the ruling and otherwise had no comment.

The other groups that joined the Farm Bureau in the lawsuit included the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, The Fertilizer Institute, National Chicken Council,, United States Poultry and Egg Association, National Pork Producers Council, National Corn Growers Association and the National Turkey Federation.