Members of the Chesapeake Bay Commission met with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson and USDA Sec. Tom Vilsack in D.C today to urge federal agencies to give more support to the six states and D.C. that are subject to the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, a mandatory Clean Water Act pollution reduction plan.
Recognizing current fiscal constraints, Commission members mainly focused on recommending modifications to existing programs, but also suggested creation of a Regional Innovative Technology Fund.
Long term easements and set asides are used to protect fragile land in the watershed and prevent runoff and erosion, but high land prices in the Bay region hamper protection efforts. To increase the acres of protected lands and target vulnerable lands, the Commission recommended variable tiered payments based on the lands erosion, nutrient leaching or runoff to the Bay, and a higher geographic rate cap for the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program.
To help farmers more quickly adopt innovative pollution control practices, Commission Chairman, Sen. Mike Brubaker (R-Lancaster), suggested that EPA compile results from the massive amounts of agricultural research on nutrient and sediment management, conservation best practices and ecosystem market opportunities, and quickly deliver this information to agencies and individuals that assist farmers with conservation planning.
EPA and USDA were urged to continue their current efforts to work with the Bay states to provide farmers who meet nutrient and sediment loss baselines with a safe harbor, or “certainty” from further regulation.
They were also asked to reconcile the findings from two different models often used to report on the success of pollution control efforts made by agriculture, the EPA Chesapeake Bay Model and the USDA Conservation Effects Assessment Report.
Conflicting reports on Bay cleanup progress, and the resulting rhetoric clouds cleanup efforts, and understanding between federal and state agencies, farmers and environmentalists.
Delegate Jim Hubbard (MD) and Senator Mary Margaret Whipple (VA) asked Jackson to make sure that federal installations follow through on their plans to reduce pollution to the Bay.
The Commission also requested that EPA hold firm to pollution reductions required at the Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant under the facility’s new permit, which will result in a total reduction of approximately four million pounds of nitrogen per year to the Chesapeake Bay, the single-largest reduction of nitrogen loadings in the entire watershed.
To help the states understand whether, and by how much, nutrient trading could reduce the economic burden of the mandatory clean up plan, the Commission recommended that EPA take the lead in a nutrient trading market analysis, taking into consideration environmental impacts that ensure the protection of local waters.
One of the few suggestions for new spending was for a $30 million Regional Innovative Technology Fund to accelerate commercial adoption of emerging technologies that create alternatives to land application of manure, and that could have additional economic and environmental benefits such as electricity generation, carbon trading, nutrient trading, or production of organic soil amendments that could displace imported nutrients.
The fund could also promote widespread production and use of biofuels, which could create new markets for farmers, incentivize winter crops, and stabilize fuel costs and would help states achieve clean water and energy independence goals.
The Commission asked EPA to prepare an analysis of federal policy changes that could promote this type of innovation.Click Here for a copy of the requests to EPA. Click Here for a copy of the requests for USDA.