After decades of effort, the voluntary, collaborative approach to restoring the health and vitality of the Chesapeake Bay— the largest estuary in the United States—has not worked and, in fact, is failing. A diverse group of 57 senior scientists and policymakers have joined forces to save the Bay. This is our plan.

Return of the Chesapeake Bay Pop Quiz

(Posted by Gerald Winegrad.)

Question: What are just some of the consequences of unchecked agricultural runoff in the Chesapeake Bay?

Answer: Skin-devouring diseases, destroyed oyster bars, and severely degraded water quality.

Question: Which large corporate agricultural lobbying organizations represent the major pollution sources causing these debilitating effects on the Chesapeake?

Answer: The American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Chicken Council, the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association, the Fertilizer Institute, the National Turkey Federation, the National Pork Producers Council, the National Corn Growers Association, and the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.

Question: Which corporate agricultural lobbying organizations have pitched in together to help cut their excessive nutrient and sediment pollution that is choking the Bay?

Answer: None. Instead, these groups have joined together as plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in January to block the Chesapeake Bay restoration plan set by the EPA under the Clean Water Act in December and agreed upon by the states after years of extensive collaboration and hearings in all Bay states.

Yes, that’s right: even though agriculture contributes 43 percent of the nitrogen, 45 percent of the phosphorus, and 60 percent of the sediment to the Bay, more than any other source of these three key Bay-choking pollutants, these ag giants want to continue to soak the American taxpayer for billions of dollars in grants and subsidies without being held accountable.

Question: What specifically is the corporate agricultural lobby trying to do in this suit?

Answer: By filing suit in the federal district court in Harrisburg, Penn., the corporate agricultural lobby is trying to kill the detailed pollution diet set for the Bay and each Bay state that sets specific limits for nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment. It’s after the TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) which mandates a 25 percent reduction in nitrogen, 24 percent reduction in phosphorus, and 20 percent reduction in sediment by 2025. These pollution limits are further divided by jurisdiction and major river basin.

Since agriculture is the biggest polluter and since its pollution is the cheapest to stop, agriculture would come under mandated pollution reductions. Big Ag does not like such reductions being required—they prefer the failed voluntary system—which we’ve had for years—where the federal and state governments give them hundreds of millions of dollars not to pollute with little accountability.

Question: Is the agricultural lobby’s assertion true that there wasn’t enough input into and evaluation of were put into the EPA’s TMDL Bay pollution reduction efforts?

Answer: Absolutely not! Since 2005, the six Bay states and the District of Columbia have been actively involved in decision-making to develop the TMDL that is required by the Clean Water Act. The Bay states knew they were failing to meet the pollution reductions they agreed upon in the 2000 Bay Agreement. During the October 2007 meeting of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Principals’ Staff Committee, the Bay watershed jurisdictions and EPA agreed that EPA would establish the TMDL. Since 2008, EPA has sent official letters to the jurisdictions detailing all facets of the TMDL, including nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment limits. During 2009 and 2010, a highly-transparent and engaging public process was used to develop and seek input into the TMDL. The outreach effort included: hundreds of meetings with interested groups; two rounds of public meetings in each Bay jurisdiction; stakeholder sessions and media interviews in all seven jurisdictions; a dedicated EPA website; a series of monthly interactive webinars; notices published in the Federal Register with opportunity for public comments; and a close working relationship with Chesapeake Bay Program committees representing the farming community, local governments, the public, and the scientific community. Agricultural interests were well-represented and fully aware of this process and integrally involved.

Question: How do you respond to Big Ag’s assertions that the TMDL is flawed and the computer data is not accurate?

Answer: Development of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL required extensive knowledge of the stream flow characteristics of the watershed, sources of pollution, distribution and acreage of the various land uses, appropriate best management practices, the transport and fate of pollutants, precipitation data and many other factors. The EPA used its sophisticated computer system, actual data, and modeling that has been in use for years to guide the Bay restoration efforts. All Bay jurisdictions had input into this process and the states and affected interests, including agriculture, were well aware of this process and use of data. In fact, much of the data on farm pollution was verified by a recent study by the USDA.

Question: What else has the agricultural lobby done to block mandatory efforts to curb Bay pollution?

Answer: Ag groups, including the plaintiffs mentioned above, have consistently fought ag pollution curbs in Congress, the state legislatures, and by state regulators. For example, the Cardin Chesapeake Bay Restoration bill, even though significantly weakened and then supported by key Republicans, was defeated at the end of last year by the ag lobby. So extensive is their grip on the regulatory process that back in the 1980’s Big Ag achieved an exemption from all enforcement of the Clean Water Act against its nonpoint source pollution except for large animal operations (CAFOs).

Question: What must be done to overcome the agricultural lobby blockage of mandatory controls of farm pollution that are so extremely critical to restoring the Bay?

Answer: The federal and state governments, including the Congress and state legislatures, must overcome the ag lobby and impose meaningful measures requiring farm pollution reductions, whether from chicken manure or nitrogen fertilizer. Our Bay Action Plan details what needs to be done. The environmental community must act to develop and support the legislation and regulations detailed in our Bay Action Plan.

Instead of being occupied with off-shore wind turbines, new septic tanks, and waste-to-energy plants (as during Maryland’s last session), focus should be on the #1 Bay pollution source: agriculture. Without meaningful change, 27 more years will pass with the Bay becoming a dead body of water.

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