EPA seeks authority to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus emissions

By TIM HEARDEN

Capital Press

A brewing battle over pollution controls in the Chesapeake Bay could have national implications, agricultural groups say.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants to cut by 25 percent nitrogen and phosphorus emissions from farms and factories into the bay, and a bill in the U.S. Senate would give the agency the authority to do just that.

The EPA's mandatory "pollution diet" fulfills President Barack Obama's executive order to restore the bay and its vast network of streams, creeks and rivers, the agency explained when it proposed its Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL, for the bay in September.

More than 40 farm groups, including the U.S. Cattlemen's Association and National Cattlemen's Beef Association, argue the EPA is usurping state water agencies' control over the bay, which is nearly surrounded by Maryland and Virginia.

"Obviously because this TMDL model will be translated from the Chesapeake Bay over to the other watersheds across the country, we're very concerned about that," said Ashley Lyon, the NCBA's deputy environmental counsel. "Even if the bay states are in agreement with this model, it's not just them that this will ultimately affect.

"They fully intend to use this TMDL process across the country," she said. "The Mississippi watershed is next, but of course that's not where it stops."

A federal seizure of control over emissions into local water bodies would have vast repercussions for agricultural operations, the USCA said. Farmers and ranchers could only expect "more regulations and a more prevalent regulatory presence by the EPA," USCA member Eddie Shelton said in a statement.

The USCA and other ag groups are taking aim at a bill, SB1816, which authorizes the EPA's Chesapeake Bay program. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., contends that restoring the health of the bay is a regional effort that should be led by the states "in partnership" with the federal government.

The bill must be passed in the current lame-duck session of Congress or it dies, Lyon said. Ag groups fear Cardin may try to insert the bill into a larger, less controversial water bill, so they sent a letter to all senators urging them to oppose it, USCA spokeswoman Kelly Fogarty said.

"Right now, the main regulatory authority lies first with state and local governments," Fogarty said. "This legislation would transfer that regulatory power to the EPA."

Barring proper authority, the EPA's effort to assert control over the Chesapeake will likely face legal challenges, Lyon said.

"The legislation in Congress would give them the authority they need to do some of these things, so they obviously realize they don't have the authority," she said.

Online

SB1816: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=s111-1816

Chesapeake Bay TMDL: http://www.epa.gov/chesapeakebaytmdl

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