On October 26, American Agriculturist filed an article here about the Chesapeake Clean Water and Ecosystem Act of 2009, a bill introduced by U.S. Senator Benjamin Cardin, D-Md. That legislation (Senate Bill 1816) has produced a groundswell of protest, the latest coming from the New York Corn Growers Association.
The proposed changes to the federal Environmental Protection Agency's approach to improving water quality in the Chesapeake Bay watershed would hinder successful programs already in place and hurt agriculture, contends the group. NYCGA has joined four other ag organizations to protest provisions that would amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to expand and reauthorize the Chesapeake Bay Program.
NYCGA, along with the National Corn Growers Association, the Maryland Grain Producers Association, the National Association of Wheat Growers and the Virginia Grain Producers Association, recently sent a letter to the Senate Public Works Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife expressing concerns about the proposed bill.
One of the biggest changes would expand EPA authority to include withholding state funds, withholding current and new permits, as well as superseding state and local programs. "This will reverse years of constructive advancements made possible through voluntary incentive-based programs delivered by Soil and Water Conservation Districts," says NYCGA President Steve VanVoorhis, "The penalty-driven mandates proposed by EPA are not the way to clean up the Chesapeake watershed.
Proposed new penalties associated with Total Maximum Daily Load efforts leave no room for weather problems or delayed harvest which is a common challenge. "This lack of flexibility demonstrates the absence of economic impact evaluation for the agricultural sector," according to the groups' letter.
"New York's Agriculture Environmental Management Program has been a tremendous help in assuring that farmers are environmental stewards, and have met the milestones established by the Chesapeake Bay Program," he contends.
"In respect to water quality, agriculture is the Chesapeake Bay watershed's most effective and efficient land use. However, farmers would bear such significant economic hardship from S. 1816 that many farms would be sold into less desirable, detrimental land uses," states the letter.
Agriculture has been the only non-point sector that has consistently made progress toward water quality goals over the past decade. But as previously reported, the current EPA administration is largely unaware of agriculture's progress in bay clean-up efforts.
"Farmers have been working hard to play their part in addressing the environmental challenge of protecting the Chesapeake Bay by instituting practices that are environmentally sound," adds Rick Zimmerman, NYCGA executive director. Achieving water quality must be a cooperative partnership, not "an iron-fisted mandate of regulations that are punitive-based."
The groups urge lawmakers to reauthorize the Chesapeake Bay Program without substantive changes. They want to see the development of science-based measures for economic recovery and growth that can coexist with water quality goals and initiatives.