The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have reached a new agreement to reduce pollution from animal operations. This new agreement, which arises from the 2010 settlement of CBF's lawsuit, will provide additional certainty that the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint (the Bay Total Maximum Daily Load and State Watershed Implementation Plans or "WIPs") now in place will achieve its goal of reducing pollution throughout the six-state, 64,000 square-mile Bay region with full implementation by 2025.
"The goal of the lawsuit and settlement agreement was to ensure that science-based pollution limits were developed and that the states implemented specific plans to reach those goals by a date certain," said CBF Vice President for Environmental Protection and Restoration Kim Coble. "We believe this agreement is an important step in achieving those goals. It is important to note that this agreement will not require a protracted rule-making process and can be implemented immediately under EPA's existing authority."
In the 2010 settlement agreement to a lawsuit brought by CBF and partners, EPA agreed, among other things, to promulgate a new national Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) rule to address pollution discharges from livestock and poultry farms.
"Since the agreement was signed in 2010, EPA has come under significant fire for imposing new regulations," Vice President for Litigation Jon Mueller said. "Even if a new CAFO rule was enacted it would be challenged in court for years. And it is not entirely clear that a new rule would have advanced the ball because it would not address a key question, whether a farm was discharging pollution."
As a result, CBF and EPA signed a legally binding amendment to the settlement agreement that replaces the rulemaking provision with four requirements that will help ensure that pollution from the Bay region's animal feeding operations is reduced by 2017. The commitments in this modified agreement will help determine whether farms are actually discharging pollution.
First, EPA must audit each state's CAFO and Animal Feeding Operation (AFO) programs to ensure they comply with the Clean Water Act and are being implemented to effectively meet the pollution reduction goals of the state WIPs. If they find problems EPA is bound to take appropriate actions. For example, for Virginia to meet its Blueprint goals, EPA should require that the state amend its AFO regulations to require that cattle be fenced out of streams.
Second, inspect animal feeding operations in the Bay region to ensure compliance with applicable requirements, and take action if they are not. This is essential because in Pennsylvania, for example, preliminary analyses have indicated a significant percentage of Pennsylvania's farms may not be in compliance with one or more long-standing conservation-based regulations.
Third, review specific CAFO permits and their associated nutrient management plans, determine whether those plans are effectively achieving water quality goals, and take action if they are not. CBF has long been concerned that some farmers don't follow the nutrient management plans and that for some they are just a paper exercise.
And finally, EPA will use the data collected to determine whether revisions to national CAFO rules are necessary to reach cleanup goals.
"These actions, implemented on this scale, can significantly reduce pollution to local streams and the Bay. In one Pennsylvania subwatershed alone, an analysis of the farms in the area found that the majority lacked the required soil conservation and manure management plans. As a result, the County Conservation District stepped up and began to work with those farmers, as well as others in the county, to get them into compliance," Coble said.
Agriculture is the largest source of pollution to local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay. Installing conservation practices on farms is also the most cost effective way to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution.
"We believe that well managed farms are one of the best ways to protect water quality," Coble said. "Working with the USDA and the states, EPA's on-farm inspections and increased oversight of state regulations will bring us closer to protecting water quality in local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay."
The Virginia State Waterman's Association, the Maryland Watermen's Association, the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association, former Maryland Governor Harry Hughes, retired Maryland Senator Bernie Fowler, former Virginia legislator and Natural Resources Secretary Tayloe Murphy, and former Washington D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams joined CBF in the lawsuit and the 2010 settlement.