Federal legislation known as the Chesapeake Bay Program Reauthorization and Improvement Act (H.R. 5509) was reported out of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee this week. Introduced by Pennsylvania Congressman Tim Holden, it starkly contrasts with much tougher legislation offered by Maryland Senator Ben Cardin. Now it goes to the full House.
Holden's legislation aims to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed by working with farmers to implement conservation practices, says Pennsylvania Farm Bureau President Carl Shaffer. Cardin's legislation, he contends could threaten the future of farm families "by providing the Environmental Protection Agency unbridled authority to place cost prohibitive and unnecessary regulations on all farming activities and land uses."
Chesapeake Bay Foundation officials, however, are disappointed. Doug Siglin, CBF's federal affairs director, says the legislation moves pollution reduction efforts forward by:
Directing the U.S.D.A. Secretary to provide much needed technical assistance to farmers to implement practices to reduce pollution;
Further the transparency and accountability of efforts to improve water quality in our region.
Creating a water quality trading program designed to lower the cost of reducing pollution; and
Requiring EPA and USDA to work together with the states to identify how farmers should meet their obligations to meet water quality standards.
"However, we remain concerned that, ultimately, HR 5509 does not ensure that the pollution reduction from agriculture needed to get the Bay and its tributaries cleaned up by 2025 will be made. We continue to strongly support Senator Cardin and Congressman Cummings' bills, but look forward to working with Congressman Holden and other members of the Agriculture Committee to advance the good ideas contained in H.R. 5509."
Shaffer notes that the Holden bill takes a much more constructive approach to improving water quality compared to the Cardin bill by providing incentives for farmers to implement additional environmental best management practices, which go above and beyond minimum regulatory compliance.
"Although there are numerous contributors to water pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, the majority of stakeholders believe agriculture is the preferred land use for water quality improvement. For example, it's more cost-effective to reduce nutrient runoff by installing best management practices on farms than it is to make more costly improvements to wastewater treatment facilities. We need practical changes that still allow farmers to farm, rather than the Cardin bill which will drive farmers from their land and out of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. That is not a good option for consumers who enjoy a reliable, local food supply and appreciate picturesque rolling hills maintained by farm families," adds Shaffer.
PFB also indicated that the Holden bill encourages the continuation of programs that are working. Recently the Susquehanna River Basin Commission issued a report that outlined significant reductions in nutrient and sediment loads in the Susquehanna River, which provides more than 50% of the Bay's fresh water, while a Baltimore Sun report says 2010 is the best year for crabbing and fishing in the Bay in nearly 30 years.
"Water quality in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed is continuing to improve and Congressman Holden's bill will further accelerate those efforts without jeopardizing the livelihood of farmers," concludes Shaffer.