Despite repeated scientific analyses and data documenting agriculture as the Chesapeake Bay’s #1 polluter, the giant agribusiness lobby continues to resist better practices to stem the bay-killing nutrients and sediment flowing from farm land.
With funding from huge corporate agribusinesses, the American Farm Bureau and related allies have sued to block EPA’s “pollution diet” that would simply require states to take steps to comply with the Clean Water Act by 2025. Now, the big ag lobby has taken their assault on clean water to the halls of Congress and found ready allies in the anti-regulatory fervor there. Rep. Goodlatte (R.-VA) has succeeded in attaching an amendment to the continuing resolution to fund the government that would block implementation of the pollution diet for six months.
Congressional hearings were held last week by a House Agriculture Subcommittee that excluded the conservation community and used an EPA official for bi-partisan bashing over the setting of pollution limits on polluters, including agriculture. “There’s a gun being held to their heads until they come up with a plan that EPA thinks is desirable,” Carl Shaffer, president of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau whined. His group is a plaintiff in the federal suit to block the pollution limits. Not one Congressman, Democrat or Republican, spoke up for the Bay and mentioned the failure of the 27 years of voluntary, collaborative efforts to end the violations of the Clean Water Act.
The Subcommittee even called in the USDA’s head of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to recant parts of an earlier report detailing how agriculture had failed by wide margins to meet conservation goals in the Chesapeake watershed. Last fall, the USDA NRCS issued an Assessment of the Effects of Conservation Practices on Cultivated Cropland in the Chesapeake Bay Region (CEAP) noting just how much more agriculture needs to do to prevent the continued pollution of the bay. Their detailed analyses of cropland conservation practices confirms our senior bay scientists and policymaker’s fonclusions that the current voluntary approach to agricultural pollutants has not and will not succeed without mandatory, enforceable regulations. As the report and EPA confirmed, at best the agricultural sector has only achieved one-half of the agreed-upon nutrient and sediment reductions after 27 years of funding enhancements.
Although agricultural cropland makes up 10 percent of the land area of the bay watershed, the USDA study found that:
With the current level of conservation treatment, cultivated cropland delivers a disproportionate amount of sediment and nutrients to rivers and streams and ultimately to the Bay. Of the total loads delivered to rivers and streams from all sources, cultivated cropland is the source for 25 percent of the sediment, 27.5 percent of the phosphorus, and 32 percent of the nitrogen.
The CEAP report also found that:
- Significant improvement is still needed in nutrient management throughout the region and about 80 percent of the cultivated cropland acres require additional nutrient management to reduce the loss of nitrogen or phosphorus from fields or better control of sediment. Altogether, the report found that 3.5 million acres of farmland in the watershed is undertreated for one or more pollution issues, including nutrients or sediment runoff.
- The most critical conservation concern in the region is loss of nitrogen through subsurface loss pathways with 65 percent of cropped acres requiring additional nutrient management to address excessive levels of nitrogen loss in subsurface flow pathways.
- About 19 percent of the 4.3 million cropped acres are critically under-treated for conservation measures and these are the acres with the highest nutrient and sediment losses in the region. (This critically under-treated category was reduced from 47 percent of farmland in the watershed and rumors flew that agribusiness influenced the changes.)
Our group of 58 senior scientists and policymakers for the Bay found that the Bay states have repeatedly failed by wide margins to achieve the agreed upon nutrient and sediment reductions necessary to restore the Bay, particularly from nonpoint sources–agriculture and existing and new development. This is due to a failure to adopt the necessary measures to accomplish these reductions in agricultural and other nonpoint source pollutants. Without the mandatory measures to control agricultural pollution that we have suggested, the Bay is doomed.
The agribusiness lobby continues to resist regulation of the millions of pounds of Bay-killing nutrients flowing from farm animal manure and chemical fertilizers and the tens of thousands of pounds of sediment choking our oyster bars and living critters on the Bay’s bottom. These same denies now have resorted to the courts and the Congress to block progress on a long-awaited court mandated pollution diet. These actions should serve notice to all concerned with the plight of the Chesapeake that we all will have to take a much more aggressive stance on agriculture if the Chesapeake Bay is ever to be better than it is now.