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Gorillas in the Bay: Time to Face Facts in the Chesapeake

Thursday, September 17, 2009

By Michelle Perez, EWG Senior Analyst

Press coverage last week of the latest federal proposals to clean up the Chesapeake Bay was good. But, an important piece of the puzzle was missing from the discussion.

The puzzle's missing piece

Yes, it's fantastic that President Obama has asked five federal agencies to propose ways they can do their jobs better to restore water quality in the six-state, 64,000 square-mile Bay watershed. And yes, Senator Ben Cardin's (D-Maryland) draft legislation is crucial to give EPA unprecedented power to compel the states to clean up the Bay and punitive authority if they fail to act.

However, these reports and legislation and the resulting press coverage ignores the 800-pound gorilla in the room:

Unintended albeit harmful runoff from agricultural farm fields.

The federal government's reach over farm pollution - which is the single largest source of the nutrient and sediment pollution harming the Bay - is limited to regulating only the largest animal production farms. This leaves the majority of animal farms and the majority of animal waste unregulated by the federal government.

What's worse, there's a huge loophole in the federal animal farm regulation: the feds have no authority over the manure that gets transferred off the regulated farm and onto an unregulated farm where the manure is applied to land as a fertilizer substitute.

The current system isn't working

EWG released a report last week - Facing Facts in the Chesapeake Bay - that points out the real gorilla in our midst:

The inability of the six Bay states (Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia, and New York) to cope with the agricultural pollution that the federal government has no jurisdiction over.

Furthermore, EWG's analysis explains why and gives examples of how the voluntary approach that pays farmers to install best management practices that are good for the farm and good for the environment has failed to clean up the unintended pollution.

What needs to happen

Finally, EWG points out that the only way these state governments can show EPA they are truly able to achieve their portion of the upcoming Bay clean-up goals is if they develop a fair and sensible regulatory framework to reduce agricultural pollution.

Read more about what a fair and sensible regulatory framework could look like and find out what agricultural pollution regulations do exist are in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia, and New York.

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