Farm Federation May Appeal Chesapeake Bay Decision

Sep 16, 2013

Chesapeake Bay.
Credit Craig Strachan via flickr

A federal judge in Pennsylvania has turned back the farm industry’s efforts to toss out the Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay clean-up plan—known as a “pollution diet”—in a decision that may have national implications.

Ellen Steen, a lawyer for the farm groups, said the organizations are worried that EPA could apply the framework it established for Chesapeake Bay clean-up just about anywhere there are “impaired” waters. “We think that the framework is an unwise one,” she said, “and allows for a much higher level of federal oversight and control over local land use and economic development decisions than Congress ever, ever intended to give to EPA.

The American Farm Bureau Federation sued in early 2011 at the U.S. District Court in Harrisburg, arguing that the EPA lacked the authority to establish pollution limits for states in the Bay watershed. The Farm Bureau was joined by a number of national organizations, including the National Pork Producers Council, the National Corn Growers Association and the National Chicken Council.

Steen said they were interested in more than the Chesapeake Bay’s 64,000 square mile watershed. “We’re looking at it from a larger national policy perspective and whether this is something that is lawful here in the Chesapeake Bay, but also whether it’s something that would be allowed elsewhere,” she said.

In an exhaustive 99-page opinion, District Judge Sylvia Rambo rejected all of the farm bureau’s arguments. She said EPA not only has the authority, but “the responsibility” to establish pollution limits for “impaired waters,” such as the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. She noted that voluntary, state efforts had failed to produce an improvement and that the federal government should step in.

In a written statement, EPA called the decision a “victory for the 17 million people in the Chesapeake Bay watershed." 

"We can all now as partners re-focus our work on achieving clean water goals, building on the progress already happening, and reaping the benefits of restoring local waters and the Bay,” it read.

Will Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, called the farmer’s lawsuit a “significant challenge” that had the potential to invalidate the three-decade long cleanup effort. “And fortunately, the federal judge, in an extremely strong ruling, said absolutely not going to throw it out. This is the way it’s going to be and it validates the Bay restoration effort.”

He rejected claims that the case has national implications, arguing that the only thing the decision talks about is Chesapeake Bay clean-up. “If others want to talk about national implications that’s their business,” Baker said. “We’re involved with the Chesapeake Bay; this is what we see the decision having to do with.”

Steen said the farm bureau and its partners haven’t formally decided whether to appeal, but they wouldn’t have filed the suit if they didn’t believe they were right about the EPA’s powers.

Baker urged the groups to drop the suit and spend the money on clean-up efforts with the Bay Foundation, but Steen insisted that nothing in the lawsuit would stop efforts on the ground to improve bay water quality.