By Sara Wyant

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

ATLANTA, Jan. 10 – The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) filed a lawsuit in the Harrisburg, PA. federal court to halt the Environmental Protection Agency's pollution regulatory plan for the Chesapeake Bay. The group was joined by the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau in the suit.

“We all want a clean and healthy Chesapeake Bay,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman. “This lawsuit is about how we get there. Farm Bureau believes EPA's 'diet' for the Chesapeake is dangerous and unlawful.”

AFBF says the agency is overreaching by establishing a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) or so-called “pollution diet” for the 64,000 square mile area, regardless of cost. The TMDL dictates how much nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment can be allowed into the Bay and its tributaries from different areas and sources.

Farm Bureau has three basic objections to the TMDL rule.

  • The rule unlawfully “micromanages” state actions and the activities of farmers, homeowners and businesses within the six-state Chesapeake Bay watershed. EPA's plan imposes specific pollutant allocations on activities such as farming and homebuilding, sometimes down to the level of individual farms. The Clean Water Act, the AFBF action contends, requires a process that allows states to decide how to improve water quality and take into account the economic and social impacts on businesses and communities in the states.

  • To establish the TMDL, EPA relied on inaccurate assumptions and on a scientific model that EPA itself admits was flawed, AFBF noted. AFBF claims that the TMDL violates the Administrative Procedures Act's prohibition of “arbitrary and capricious” agency action.

  • EPA violated the APA requirement that agencies allow meaningful public participation on new rules. The suit alleges that EPA failed to provide the public with critical information about the basis for the TMDL and allowed insufficient time (45 days) for the public to comment on the incomplete, but highly technical, information that EPA did provide.

“Our laws require agencies to show the public what their actions are based on, so that the public can tell the agencies if they are getting it wrong,” Stallman added. “In this instance, EPA failed to provide critical information.”

In a statement, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation said it was “extremely disappointed that the Farm Bureau has chosen to sue EPA rather than work together to help address pressing water pollution problems in the Chesapeake Bay, identified by Presidents from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama as a national treasure.”

“This action by the Federation is not pro-farming action but anti-clean water. The TMDL process has been underway for years, considered agricultural interests repeatedly, and reflected changes due to their concerns. The choice to sue at this point is but another disappointing example of the Farm Bureau’s role as a high-powered lobbying group intent on misrepresenting the facts and frustrating the process of cleaning up the Bay and its rivers, contrary to the wishes of many of its members.

“CBF has repeatedly reached out to the farming community to address areas of mutual interest. Clean water is important to farmers, their families, and their livestock. Litigation will be long and costly for all involved and will likely do nothing but frustrate progress – perhaps the Farm Bureau’s real intent, in spite of rhetoric saying they support clean water.”

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