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Farm Bill Debate and Ag Pollution Continue

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

While the Senate and House Agriculture Committees debate how drastically they will cut proven farm bill conservation programs, widespread industrial agriculture pollution continues to take its toll. An ABC News affiliate in Baltimore reports this morning that the Maryland Department of the Environment found at least 6,000 dead fish washed ashore Monday in two Maryland counties:

MDE officials have been watching algae blooms since March and say that it is likely that one of the blooms caused the fish kill.

When the US Fish and Wildlife Service looked at the causes of algae blooms in Chesapeake Bay last year, it found that:

Nonpoint sources pose a greater threat to the Chesapeake ecosystem, as they are much harder to control and regulate. Farm fertilizers and animal manure comprise a large portion of nonpoint source nutrients.

And early this year, the U.S. Ecological Society released a paper looking at the impact of excess nitrogen fertilizer on the environment (pdf).

Two-thirds of U.S. coastal systems are moderately to severely impaired due to nutrient loading; there are now approximately 300 hypoxic (low oxygen) zones along the U.S. coastline, and the number is growing. One third of U.S. streams and two-fifths of U.S. lakes are impaired by high nitrogen concentrations.

More than 1.5 million Americans drink well water contaminated with too much (or close to too much) nitrate (a regulated drinking water pollutant), potentially placing them at increased risk of birth defects and cancer.

The Ecological Society came to many of the same conclusions as the Troubled Waters report that EWG published in April. EWG’s analysis showed that fully funding conservation programs and requiring that farmers engage in environmentally friendly practices in exchange for federal subsidies are the only tools we currently have to fight pollution from agricultural runoff.

Underscoring this point, Bob Benson, president of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America writes in today’s Baltimore Sun of the importance of attaching stewardship agreements like conservation compliance requirements to federal crop insurance programs:

In 1996, a conservation compliance loophole was created for crop insurance. It's time to close that loophole. Closing the loophole is necessary because crop insurance payments are the largest form of federal farm subsidy payments, with an overall participation rate exceeding 80 percent for the major crops.

One of the best aspects of the stewardship agreements is that they will not cost any additional federal dollars nor require additional regulations for America's farm operators. In fact, they can save taxpayers money because federal payments will not be made unless stewardship agreements are in place.

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Table Scraps:

-          Reuters reports on a study showing that coastal sea grasses have the potential to sequester more climate- altering carbon than forests. Sadly, extreme heat and nitrogen fertilizer runoff are contributing to a steep decline in Maryland’s sea grass.

-          Agence France-Press (AFP) reports on a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showing that when pregnant rats were exposed to a common crop chemical, their descendants three generations later showed increased anxiety and stress. The researchers suggest “that the animal model may provide an explanation for the mounting number of cases of anxiety disorders, autism and obesity among humans in recent years.”

-          The Worthington, Minn. Daily Globe has a comprehensive story on soil erosion problems and solutions in southwestern Minnesota.

-          Mother Jones’ Tom Philpott reports on his dinner with several executives from the world’s largest agrichemical companies.

Tweet of the day:

[email protected] Dead Zones Reversible, Virginia Biologist Says http://ow.ly/b59fA#baynews #chesbay

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