Bay Journal

Farm Bureau can choose to be a sore loser or part of the solution

  • By William C. Baker on May 12, 2016
  • Comments are closed for this article.
While many farmers have implemented best management practices, the full agricultural community must do its fair share. (Dave Harp)

The long and expensive fight by the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Fertilizer Institute and their allies to derail the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint is finally over. The Supreme Court refused to hear their appeal of a lawsuit that they had lost in both the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg and in a unanimous decision by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.

Now that their legal opposition has finally been turned back, we reached out to the Farm Bureau and its allies to encourage them to work with us, rather than fight us.

But despite the decision by the Supreme Court, the Farm Bureau continues its anti-EPA rhetoric. In a recent press statement, they continue to contend that the “EPA has asserted the power to sit as a federal zoning board, dictating which land can be farmed and where homes, roads and schools can be built.” This argument has been repeatedly rejected by federal courts.

The Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint pollution caps are still under attack. Timothy Bishop, a partner with Mayer Brown LLP in Chicago who represents the American Farm Bureau Federation, is quoted as saying the question of the EPA’s authority has “just been postponed” until there are nine justices on the court.

There is a real danger in denying agriculture’s role in restoring water quality. The very best estuarine science in the world has presented indisputable evidence that agriculture is part of the problem and must be part of the solution.

Beyond the Bay, as well, a recent University of Michigan-led multi-institution study concluded that a 40 percent reduction in phosphorus runoff from farms and other sources would be needed to stem the harmful algae blooms and dead zones plaguing Lake Erie.

If that 40 percent reduction sounds familiar, it should. For decades, Bay scientists have known that to restore our local rivers, streams and the Chesapeake Bay, we need to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution by 40 percent.

We have made progress, but much of it has been achieved by reducing pollution from sewage treatment plants. While many farmers have implemented best management practices, the full agricultural community must do its fair share.

The Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint provides a road map to recovery, but it must be fully implemented. With the 2017 Midpoint Assessment just around the corner, it appears that the region will miss another mark, by millions of pounds of pollution, largely because of Pennsylvania, and primarily from agriculture.

The commonwealth’s officials have acknowledged the problem, and said they are committed to getting the state back on track. Our reaction is to trust, but verify.

An editorial in Lancaster (PA) Farming put it well:

“We should always keep careful watch of what the government is doing, especially with our money and our freedoms.

“But TMDL requirements provide an opportunity to show the rest of the nation that farmers can co-exist with nonfarmers and that the environment doesn’t have to suffer as a result.

“Farm Bureau may have lost its battle, but farmers have a chance to win the pollution war.”

We in the Chesapeake Bay region have the opportunity to show the nation, and the world, what can be accomplished if businesses, governments, individuals — and even the Farm Bureau — work together to reduce pollution in our local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay.

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About William C. Baker
William C. Baker is president and CEO of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a nonprofit environmental group whose mission is to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay.
Read more articles by William C. Baker


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Ellen Steen, General Counsel, American Farm Bureau on May 13, 2016:

The recent legal challenge to EPA’s Blueprint for the Chesapeake Bay has zero to do with whether farmers will do their part to achieve a healthy Bay. They undeniably will, and Farm Bureau is firmly committed to playing a positive role in those efforts. The lawsuit simply challenged whether EPA has the legal authority to micromanage state and local decisions on the particular methods to be adopted. Farm Bureau and its allies chose to litigate in part based on legal principal. We believe—as do the dozens of members of Congress and state Attorneys General who supported us—that the law prescribes a more limited federal role. But other reasons were based in policy—such as the fact that EPA’s approach will impose dramatically higher costs on farmers within the watershed than alternative equally effective approaches. (See page ,45.) The lower courts upheld EPA’s authority, and the Supreme Court following Justice Scalia’s death declined to hear the case. It should come as no surprise that Farm Bureau continues to maintain its position, even as Farm Bureau and the dedicated farmers within the Bay watershed continue the hard work of ensuring that agriculture is doing its part to achieve clean water. CBF has consistently mischaracterized the legal and policy issues raised by the litigation. And I suppose that’s good for fundraising. But it does not inform the public, it contributes nothing of substance to the complex scientific and economic challenge before us all.

Michele Aavang on May 13, 2016:

I'm a farmer (and Farm Bureau member) from the Midwest with farmer friends across the country. We are all exceedingly aware of the importance of clean water and are each taking steps to improve the quality of our watersheds and environment. To state that farmers are not doing their "fair share" is inaccurate at best, and the USDA would agree with me. In the case of the Chesapeake Bay, USDA credits farmers for putting into place erosion control practices, including no-till, minimum till, contour farming and filter strips on 96% of the farmland acres in production in the watershed. Those measures have reduced runoff of sediment from cultivated land by 30%, nitrogen by 21%, and phosphorous by 21%. In spite of that progress (led by local efforts), the EPA continued to push its overreaching Blueprint plan. Of course, more must be done - no one disputes that. But EPA's new regulations, granting the agency federal super-zoning authority, will impose layer upon layer of unnecessary, inflexible bureaucracy. The result will be thousands of family farmers driven out of business with the economic loss of tens of billions of dollars to states and local communities in the watershed. Because of this, I will continue to believe that decisions on such matters are best left to state and local officials. As a Farm Bureau member, I'm happy that Farm Bureau will continue to monitor this situation. There is simply too much at stake, for farmers, rural communities, and the Bay.

Linda Odell on May 17, 2016:

We are farmers (and a Farm Bureau Member) from Colorado, we are very aware of the importance of clean water and do all we can to protect the water sheds. The water in Colorado gets used 7 times before it ever leaves our beautiful state then it heads down the Colorado River to supply water to Arizona, Wyoming, California, Nevada, and Mexico. The EPA's is in breach of the Clean Water Act and is using it to destroy farming and farming is what feeds America. Farm Bureau is an organization that continues to fight for the farming and ranching way of life along with protecting private property rights. Water should be dealt with at a state level, every state has individual water issues and who would no better than the EPA, the people in each state.

Wilmer Stoneman, Associate Director Governmental R on May 21, 2016:

It’s disappointing to read the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) call for Farm Bureau to stop the rhetoric and be part of the solution. Implying that Farm Bureau is a sore loser and that farmers are lacking effort for a healthy Chesapeake Bay simply continues rhetoric; and is anti-farmer. If we all took the time to read the May issue of the Bay Journal you’d learn the following: Submerged Aquatic Vegetation is at 30 year high, crab populations are at 4 year high, oysters and shellfish are off slightly due to cold winter (not water quality). If you read further, Virginia leads the East Coast in oyster and clam production. These things would not be occurring if Farm Bureau members were not doing their part; and in many cases more than their fair share. It’s sad to hear that the recent Agriculture Census shows that the bay model was using data that overestimated the number of cattle in Virginia and therefore overstated their role in the condition of the bay. That’s not rhetoric. The Clean Water Act, and the associated federal and state regulations, has been debated and litigated since it was passed decades ago. There is no doubt that will continue. CBF has done, and will likely do, its fair share to perpetuate that debate, litigation, and rhetoric. The advice provided in CBF’s commentary is one everyone should follow, stop the rhetoric and work to maintain a healthy Chesapeake Bay. I know the farmers are doing their part; are you?

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