EPA Is Not Agriculture's Friend, Despite Sarah's Lip Service

EPA's goals reflected in its Chesapeake Bay Watershed "pollution diet" threaten small-scale agriculture, despite its in-house ag advocate.

Published on: Dec 10, 2013

You've heard the well-worn cliché: "I'm from the government, and am here to help you." And Sarah Bittleman, chief ag advisor to U.S. EPA, honestly believes it.

In November, Bittleman went on public record as a friend of agriculture: "We, at EPA, really want to partner with them to get to the common goals we all share: cleaner air, cleaner water, cleaner land. We don’t think we can do it without agriculture.

"We understand we are regarded with a certain amount of cynicism. But the bottom line is we share the same goals as farmers and ranchers," said Bittleman. "We want to see America’s farmers and ranchers be productive. We want [them] to stay on the land and keep growing, producing, and innovating."

UNDER EPAs GUN: The Chesapeake Bays six watershed states are EPAs prime targets for its WIP milestones and punitive backstops if agriculture in these states fall behind the agencys goals.
UNDER EPA's GUN: The Chesapeake Bay's six watershed states are EPA's prime targets for its WIP milestones and punitive backstops if agriculture in these states fall behind the agency's goals.

But one other cliché may be far more fitting for the growing confrontation between agriculture and EPA: "Actions speak louder than words."

Being WIPed into compliance?

The serious implications of EPA's intentions were as clear as EPA's so-called "backstops" that could be imposed if New York agriculture would fall behind on the imposed two-year Watershed Implementation Plan milestones. They were shared recently at a recent cover crop field day at Big Flats, N.Y., by Aaron Ristow, ag coordinator of the Upper Susquehanna Coalition.

In essence, EPA could impose the following "backstops" – presumably for livestock operations – if New York would fall behind:

•Farms of any size will be regulated as CAFOs.
•Farms of any size will have nutrient management programs.
•Farms of any size will be required to have manure storage.
•Farms of any size will be prohibited from spreading manure during the winter.
•All manure applied to crop fields will need to be injected.
•All farms will be required to have ammonia emission controls on their facilities.

Ristow suggests the list may differ somewhat by Chesapeake Bay Watershed state. Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection could not furnish American Agriculturist a comparable backstop list. However, a DEP press aide noted: "Except for 'backstops' already imposed, no further regulatory action has been taken by EPA on any of the jurisdictions."

Consider the impact of just converting all animal feeding operations to confined animal feeding operations. That, alone, would destroy many small farms and Northeast food producers because of the unaffordable regulatory burden.

Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review sometime in 2014 whether EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emission standards for stationary sources, industrial plants and potentially farms. That's the word from Danielle Quist, American Farm Bureau Federation's senior counsel for public policy.

Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, American Farm Bureau Federation and others also are appealing a federal district court decision permitting EPA to override regulate state and local land use decisions via its TMDL pollution diet. The case is being appealed to the Federal 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. Mark O'Neill, PFB communications director, says no timetable has been set for a decision.

Bittleman acknowledges spending "a lot of time explaining agriculture to EPA." Having been raised on a New York State Christmas tree farm and previously serving as an aide to U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, she has an affinity with agriculture. When it comes to environmental rule-writing and policy-making on agriculture, EPA needs a few more Sarah Bittlemans.