Recently, 21 state attorneys general, many from the Midwest, filed a “friend of the court” brief in a federal appeals court seeking to derail the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort. While that is absurd, it is also a tribute to the decades of work that has led to the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.

We now have in place pollution limits which, if achieved, will restore local rivers, streams and the Chesapeake Bay. We also have state-specific plans and a transparent and accountable process to achieve them. This process, developed with years of collaboration between the states and federal government, is working and demonstrates that when citizens, governments at all levels and businesses work together we can restore water quality.

This “friend of the court” brief is just the latest salvo in the war against the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint. It began with a lawsuit brought by the American Farm Bureau Federation, its big-agriculture allies like The Fertilizer Institute, the National Pork Producers Council and the National Corn Growers Association that sought to end Bay restoration efforts. In their original legal challenge, they claimed the EPA overreached its authority; that efforts were not based on sound science; and that there were not sufficient opportunities for public comment.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and others sided with the EPA, and in a 98-page opinion, federal Judge Sylvia Rambo decidedly rejected the arguments of those opposing clean water. She called the collaborative process between the states and federal government used to develop the pollution reduction plan an example of the “cooperative federalism” that the Clean Water Act intended.

The American Farm Bureau has appealed Judge Rambo’s decision. The appeal is now in front of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit in Philadelphia and makes similar claims of EPA over-reach, but the amicus brief from the 21 states provides a telling view of their motivations.

The brief says that “If this [cleanup] is left to stand, other watersheds, including the Mississippi River Basin (which spans 31 states from Canada to the Gulf Coast), could be next.” 

The lead attorney on the brief is Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who has the strong support of agriculture interests in Kansas. A 2010 press release on his campaign website announcing his endorsement by the Kansas Livestock Association contains this quote:

“KLA has worked closely with Derek Schmidt on many issues directly impacting agriculture during his tenure as a state senator. Schmidt has the background and commitment to be the state’s chief legal advocate as Kansas agriculture faces unprecedented attacks on many fronts, including burdensome federal environmental regulations governing water and air,” said Todd Allen, chairman of KLA’s Political Action Committee. 

The appeal and the “friend of the court” brief clearly are not about water quality in this region’s rivers, streams and the Chesapeake Bay. They are driven by the fear that if we succeed here it will be a demonstration to the nation that other waterways can also be cleaned. To legally challenge the cleanup in the Chesapeake because it ultimately may result in the cleanup of other waterways defies common sense.

Here in the Chesapeake Bay region we are making progress. Pollution reduction efforts are making a difference and the dead zone is shrinking. These efforts also create jobs that support local economies. Pollution reduction will also reduce the risks to human health.

There is still a long road and a lot of work ahead. Yet unlike elsewhere in the country, we have a Blueprint that shows us what must be done to leave the legacy of clean water for our children and grandchildren. Let your elected officials know that’s important to you.