Organizations representing wheat and corn growers in the Chesapeake Bay region provided input this week to leaders of a Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee considering a bill that could drastically expand Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) jurisdiction over agricultural operations in that area.
A letter sent Monday to correspond with a subcommittee hearing on the issue specifically addressed S. 1816, a bill to reauthorize the Chesapeake Bay program under the Clean Water Act (CWA). S. 1816 would codify a May 2009 executive order and give EPA and other federal agencies broad and undefined new authorities despite the fact that many reports and most milestones required by the executive order are still being drafted and are not yet public.
For instance, the bill would codify court-ordered Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) while shortening the process for TMDL completion, imposing burdensome regulations and penalties before procedures and practices are defined.
Bill language also significantly expands EPA authority to withhold state funds, withhold current and new permits and supersede state and local programs. The legislation carries strong penalties with short timeframes for correction, leaving no flexibility for agricultural practices like harvest or weather occurrences.
The groups told EPW leaders that, with respect to water quality, agriculture is the Chesapeake Bay watershed’s most effective and efficient land use, but the economic costs imposed by S. 1816 would likely mean many farms would be sold for less-desirable uses like housing developments.
The coalition – made up of NAWG, Maryland Grain Producers Association, New York Corn Growers Association, Virginia Grain Producers Association and National Corn Growers Association – wrote, in part:
“We ask that you carefully consider the broad implications of this legislation for production agriculture and the important role our industry will play in assuring water quality. This legislation subjugates state and local actions to the approval of federal authority through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Our producers and members are concerned about the requirements established by this legislation with little or no consideration to economic impact or future growth.”
The groups argued the efforts to achieve Chesapeake Bay water quality should be cooperative rather than strictly regulatory and encouraged the Water and Wildlife Subcommittee to reauthorize the Chesapeake Bay Program without substantive changes.
The Chesapeake legislation is one of a number of efforts to clarify or amend the Clean Water Act, with the effect of broadly expanding EPA jurisdiction over agricultural activities.
In January, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals handed down the first U.S. court ruling that pesticide discharge is a point source of pollution subject to additional regulation and permitting under the CWA.
The pending Clean Water Restoration Act would remove the term “navigable” from the definition of the “waters of the United States” in the CWA, clarifying a concept questioned in court many times in recent years, but also dramatically expanding EPA’s regulatory jurisdiction.
The complete letter sent this week can be viewed at http://www.wheatworld.org/issues/environmentalissues/
A Web archive of Monday’s hearing on S. 1816 and other water legislation can be accessed http://www.epw.senate.gov under “Hearings”.