Monday, June 13, 2022

Bay Journal: EPA And Farm Bureau Find Common Ground In Pennsylvania - Urge State Lawmakers To Support Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Funding

By Karl Blankenship,
Chesapeake Bay Journal

A decade ago, the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency were squaring off on opposite sides of courtrooms

The farm organization was challenging the agency’s authority to establish new cleanup goals for the Chesapeake Bay, a case it ultimately lost after years in court.

On Thursday, their leaders stood side by side, urging Pennsylvania lawmakers to support efforts that would help farmers meet the state’s nutrient reduction goals, which are far off track.

“You know, 10 years ago, if you mentioned EPA to a farmer or to the organization, we would have probably ran in a different direction,” said Farm Bureau president Rich Ebert. “But we felt we needed to develop a relationship.”

Standing next to Ebert at the bureau’s office near Harrisburg was Adam Ortiz, administrator of the EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region, which contains most of the Bay watershed.

The EPA in April said the state’s Bay cleanup plan failed to show that it would meet nutrient reduction goals set in the Chesapeake Bay total maximum daily load in 2010 — the plan that the Farm Bureau originally sued over. 

In Pennsylvania, most water-fouling nutrients come from the more than 30,000 farms in the state’s portion of the Bay watershed.

“My very first in-person meeting in this job was here in this building, meeting with the leadership of the Farm Bureau,” said Ortiz, who was named to his position last October. “If we’re going to solve our challenges, we have to come up with solutions together. That means sitting at the table. That means listening to different points of view. That means working together to figure things out, because we do share one region.”

Speaking at a news conference, Ortiz and Ebert urged Pennsylvania lawmakers to pass bills that would boost state funding to support conservation practices on farms. The General Assembly is supposed to wrap up work on the state budget by the end of June.

“We need more assistance to achieve our common water quality goals,” Ebert said. “We believe that EPA understands this. And we welcome their support of our efforts to obtain the funding that will allow our members to do even more for local water quality.”

The General Assembly is considering legislation that would use federal COVID relief funding to provide $250 million for a Clean Streams Fund. The money would be available for a variety of water quality improvements statewide.  Read more here.

Half of the money would go toward a new Agricultural Conservation Assistance Program that would support farmers through county conservation districts. Read more here.

In its review of Pennsylvania’s latest Bay cleanup plan, the EPA said the state lacks adequate programs and policies to keep manure from farmlands out of streams and, ultimately, the Bay. 

Unlike most other states in the Bay watershed, the EPA also noted, Pennsylvania lacks dedicated programs to help farmers fund and install conservation practices — such as streamside buffers, fall cover crops and manure storage facilities — that can help reduce nutrient-laden runoff.

“We see this as a state of Pennsylvania issue, we don’t see this as a farmer issue,” Ortiz said, “because we think the state should step up more, like other states have, to help.”

Because of the state’s shortfalls, the EPA said it was ramping up inspections of facilities that impact waterways across the state, not just in the portion that drains into the Chesapeake.

Ortiz said about 10 on-the-ground inspections were taking place at various types of water dischargers across the state this month, from wastewater treatment plants and industrial sites to large animal feeding operations.

[Visit DEP’s Chesapeake Bay Watershed webpage to learn more about cleaning up rivers and streams in Pennsylvania's portion of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

[How Clean Is Your Stream?

[Check DEP’s 2022 Water Quality Report to find out how clean streams are near you.]

(Photo: Rich Ebert, president of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, and Adam Ortiz, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Mid-Atlantic Region.)

(Reprinted from Chesapeake Bay Journal.)

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[Posted: June 13, 2022]  PA Environment Digest

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