Critics call TMDL too costly for farms, local governments
Some members of a House ag subcommittee fear it may be used as template outside the Bay area
Members of Congress continued their attacks on the EPA's new Bay cleanup plan during a November hearing, saying it was forcing huge costs upon farmers and local governments, and criticizing the computer models the agency uses to set pollution goals.
The Nov. 3 hearing was the second time this year that a subcommittee of the House Agriculture Committee delved into the total maximum daily load, or pollution diet, which many of its members fear will be used as a pollution control template for other areas in the country. Several members sought, unsuccessfully, to block funding for Bay TMDL implementation this year.
Many of the comments from panel members followed a line of criticism pursued all year by many members of the Republican-controlled House who have painted the EPA as an out-of-control regulator hurting the economy by inflicting high costs on businesses.
"Ultimately, we must be certain that the federal government is not executing the facets of this plan in a heavy-handed manner, which will place undue burden upon states and localities, during a time when we need fewer hindrances to economic growth and job creation, not more," said the subcommittee's chairman, Glenn Thompson, R-PA.
Even some Democrats joined the criticism. Rep. Tim Holden, D-PA, said that Bay cleanup efforts "should not impede on the livelihood of our family farmers. It is important that EPA works with the states as true partners to ensure the proper balance between a healthy environment and a health economy."
Much of the criticism from committee members and witnesses focused on the EPA's failure to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the cleanup effort, and on the computer models the EPA uses to estimate where nutrient and sediment pollution is coming from, and how it impacts the Bay.
EPA Region III Administrator Shawn Garvin defended the models, noting that the Bay Program's independent Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee recently issued a report that supported their use in setting cleanup goals.
He also said the agency was moving forward with a pledge made during the earlier hearing to estimate the costs and benefits of implementing the TMDL and that he expected to have initial estimates by late next year.
Garvin also said the EPA was working with states to resolve disagreements over the development of cleanup plans, noting that the EPA recently clarified that it was no longer requiring states to establish local level nutrient reduction targets measured in pounds.
Instead, he said, targets "should be based on what makes the most sense to the states and their key local partners."
Other witnesses contended the TMDL was placing too great a burden on local governments and farmers.
Edgar Perrow, a member of the Lynchburg City Council in Virginia, said costs to meet Bay goals could be $12 million a year for his city, which translates into a 4 percent increase in overall expenses, or $140 more per household. At the same time, he said, the city has already cut its budget 11 percent and anticipates another 2 percent reduction.
"As a result of this Great Recession, our local government has trimmed all the fat we can find in our budget, but this year we'll cut deeper," he said in testimony submitted to the committee. "The added cost of the Bay TMDL program cannot be sustained in our budget."
In addition, he said the city may need a $70 million upgrade for its wastewater treatment plant to meet Bay goals, forcing an increase in its sewer rates which are "already among the highest in the state."
Some called for Congress to provide financial support for the Bay effort.
Pennsylvania State Sen. Mike Brubaker, chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, an advisory panel that represents state legislatures, called for Congress to continue support for Bay nutrient reduction efforts in the new Farm Bill, which is to be completed next year.
The 2008 Farm Bill, which is expiring, provided $188 million over four years under the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative to help farmers reduce nutrient pollution to the Bay, but it's not clear if that program will be in the bill to be finalized next year.
"You cannot harvest a crop without first planting the seed," Brubaker said. "Cost-share dollars provide that seed; technical assistance and outreach provide a robust soil in which that seed can grow. With the right combination, we can reap the benefits of improved water quality."
Michael Krancer, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, also called for Congress to help fund the effort. "It is important that the federal government 'put its money where its mouth is' and if it is going to prioritize the Chesapeake Bay Program, to also prioritize it among the competing voices for the pool of federal funding that is available to bring to the effort," he said.
Krancer expressed some concerns about the EPA's implementation of the TMDL, including its modeling efforts, but said "as long as EPA uses a common sense approach, Pennsylvania will continue to be a strong partner at the table."
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