Even with Maryland implementing what may be the nation's toughest nutrient control laws, Gov. Parris Glendening said they may not be tough enough to protect the Chesapeake Bay.
Testifying before the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee in April, the governor called for federal action to regulate animal wastes and protect the nation's waterways, saying that pollutants do not stop at the state line.
"No matter what steps Maryland - or any individual state - takes, unless these internal steps are complemented by real and meaningful national regulations, only incomplete solutions to the problem will ever be achieved," Glendening told the senators.
In the wake of pfiesteria outbreaks in the Bay, as well as animal-waste-related fish kills and pollution problems in rivers across the nation, potential federal action is beginning to take form.
In March, the EPA proposed expanding its longstanding - but seldom used - authority under the Clean Water Act to require permits for the nation's 6,600 largest animal feeding operations by 2005. In addition, it said that it plans to regulate smaller operations in "sensitive" watersheds, but has not estimated how many operations that might involve. [See "New water pollution rules to target livestock operations," April 1998 Bay Journal.] In addition, the EPA, for the first time, would address pollution associated with the land application of manure, requiring that farmers develop plans managing how the waste would be placed on the land so it is not overapplied.
The agency also plans to develop stricter guidelines for the allowable levels of waste flowing from poultry and swine operations by December 2001, and new national guidelines for cattle and dairy facilities by December 2002. The EPA is expected to take final action on its plan later this year.
Some want to go further. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-IA, last year introduced legislation that would set even tougher national standards for handling animal wastes, and would create a regulatory program under the U.S.
Department of Agriculture to oversee the issue.
At the hearing, Harkin's bill drew some concern because it might duplicate the EPA's regulatory authority with a new agriculture department program.
In testimony presented to the committee, the American Farm Bureau Federation said Harkin's bill would be "wasteful of limited resources and one that will lead to confusion among landowners and redundancy among state and federal agencies."
"There is ample authority under current federal and state law to address water quality concerns and, in fact, much has been done and much is currently under way," the federation said.
Likewise, Jim Moody, of the National Pork Producer's Council, opposed Harkin's legislation because "more comprehensive regulatory action is already taking place at EPA."
Glendening also voiced support for the EPA's efforts, saying "it is the duty of the federal government to act" to level the playing field among states. "Unfortunately," he said, "the ability of some multistate corporations to locate anywhere in the country and, in some cases, anywhere in the world, can hinder an individual state's ability to realize progress in this area."
All three Bay states presently require some large animal operations to have permits, although both the EPA or Harkin's legislation would be more restrictive than either Pennsylvania's or Virginia's program. Pennsylvania, though, is developing a new regulatory program for large animal feeding operations. The Virginia General Assembly this year passed a bill requiring beefed-up inspections of feedlot operations by the Department of Environmental Quality.