The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens

Farm Bureau to sue EPA over Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan

UPDATE: The American Farm Bureau Federation and the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau filed their lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay plan on January 10.

In a news release that day, the Farm Bureau said that it has three basic objections to the EPA’s total maximum daily load (TMDL) rule on nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. It said the rule unlawfully "micromanages" state actions and the activities of farmers, homeowners and businesses within the six-state watershed. The Farm Bureau also contended that to establish the TMDL, EPA relied on inaccurate assumptions and on a scientific model that EPA itself admits was flawed. Finally, the Farm Bureau claimed that that the TMDL violates the Administrative Procedures Act's prohibition of "arbitrary and capricious" agency action.


ATLANTA — The American Farm Bureau Federation will file suit Monday to try to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from using the Clean Water Act to reduce the level of pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay.

In his annual address to the membership at Farm Bureau’s convention here, president Bob Stallman said the group would file suit in federal district court in Scranton, Pa. The suit addresses an EPA announcement that it would use total maximum daily load (TMDL) requirements to put the Chesapeake Bay on a “pollution diet” to restore clean water in the bay and the region’s streams, creeks and rivers.

“EPA likes to call the TMDL a ‘pollution diet,’ but this diet threatens to starve agriculture out of the entire 64,000 square-mile Chesapeake Bay watershed,” Stallman said. “This new approach will not end with the Bay. EPA has already revealed its plan to take similar action in other watersheds across the nation, including the Mississippi River watershed.”

EPA officials have said that the move was prompted by insufficient progress in restoring the bay, noting that the TMDL is required under federal law and responds to consent decrees in Virginia and D.C. dating back to the late 1990s.

“Today is an historic day for the decades-long effort to restore Chesapeake Bay," EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in the December 29 announcement. Most of the plans were developed by officials in the states that border the bay, she said.

The EPA regulation identifies reductions of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment from Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. The “pollution diet” calls for a 25 percent reduction in nitrogen, 24 percent reduction in phosphorus and 20 percent reduction in sediment. The TMDL — which sets Bay watershed limits of 185.9 million pounds of nitrogen, 12.5 million pounds of phosphorus and 6.45 billion pounds of sediment per year — is designed to make sure that all pollution control measures to fully restore the bay and its tidal rivers are in place by 2025, with at least 60 percent of the actions completed by 2017.

“We will challenge the actions of judges, activists and regulators who use the courts and bureaucracy to hinder the progress and productivity of our farms and ranches,” Stallman said, noting also that a federal judge in San Francisco had ordered the entire seed crop of biotech sugar beets to be plowed under.

He also took on “food elitists” he said are trying to divide farmers into “good farmers and bad farmers,” depending on how they farm. The Farm Bureau is one of 23 groups to form the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, he said, to conduct a public relations campaign to talk to consumers about the food production system.

Stallman also challenged delegates, who will meet Tuesday to vote on Farm Bureau policies, to give the group’s leaders clear guidance on areas to pursue in the next farm bill. “We need to make choices and establish priorities. Right now there are more questions than answers. What role should direct payments, revenue insurance and disaster provisions play in providing a basic economic safety net for America's farm and ranch families? What is the most effective and equitable way to use scarce government dollars?”

The Iowa Farm Bureau has proposed cutting the direct payments that crop farmers get whether prices are high or low, and using the money for crop insurance and other programs triggered by bad economic conditions. Southern farmers, who do not find the crop insurance program as useful, have said they want to keep the direct payments program.

At a news conference, Stallman said he believes the new Republican-dominated House of Representatives will make it easier “to keep bad legislation from being passed,” but said the divisions between the Republican-led House, the Democratic-led Senate and the Democratic Obama administration will make it harder “to change things we want changed.”