Farm Bureau Challenges EPA Authority Over States to Enforce TMDLs

Farm Bureau Challenges EPA Authority Over States to Enforce TMDLs

Arguments over U.S. EPA authority to mandate specific Chesapeake Bay watershed farm land use changes by states now underway in U.S. Appeals Court.

On Tuesday, lawyers representing American Farm Bureau Federation and Pennsylvania Farm Bureau began presenting oral arguments before the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. At issue is whether U.S. EPA has the authority to mandate specific means and timeframes to achieve Total Maximum Daily Load goals for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

Those mandates, known as "backstops," would remove about 600,000 acres of Pennsylvania cropland from production, according to EPA projections.

CHAMPION OF STATE/LOCAL AUTHORITY: "You don't turn the effect of 200 years [of pollution] around in a few years federal power-grabbing," says PFB President Carl Shaffer.

Farm Bureau doesn't dispute that EPA has the right to set general TMDL goals. But the farm organizations contend that the federal Clean Water Act clearly recognizes that states, not EPA, are responsible for deciding the best means and timeframes to meet the watershed implementation plan goals.

Related: EPA's Chesapeake Bay 'Backstops' Would Kill Many Small Farms (commentary)

"EPA calculates that about 600,000 acres of cropland will have to be converted to grassland or forest in order to comply with the agency's regulatory requirements for the Bay watershed," says PFB President Carl Shaffer.

"The lawsuit isn't about giving farmers a free pass," he adds."It's about making sure a government agency is correctly following the law and that the government gets it right, when imposing regulations to improve the Bay."

Meanwhile, state agencies, local conservation districts, municipalities and farmers are being bullied by federal regulators over how to properly maintain documents that provide zero enhancements to water quality. The EPA's model for assessing watershed clean-up fails to credit farmers for voluntary conservation practices such as no-till, stream buffers and other best management practices.

The agency has refused to fix its model, contends Shaffer. "We believe the facts, and the law, are on our side," he concludes.

Shaffer has lived and farmed all his life along the Susquehanna River, the Chesapeake Bay's main tributary. "I recall, as a kid, seeing orange stream banks, no fish and floating stuff I won't describe. The river is far cleaner today."

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