Bay plan changes called short-sighted with regard to agriculture

RICHMOND—Farmers statewide are alerting their representatives in Congress that proposed changes to the Chesapeake Bay Program threaten the state’s top economic sector in a time of extreme uncertainty.

Farm Bureau producer members in Virginia have begun asking elected officials to reauthorize the Chesapeake Bay Program without proposed expansion of federal authority.
“The bay is a priceless shared resource, and farmers are willing to do their share to protect it,” said Wilmer Stoneman, VFBF associate director of governmental relations. “However, proposed regulatory increases and expansions will effectively shut farmers out of future discussion on how best to preserve the bay.”

The legislation as proposed includes codification of President Obama’s Chesapeake Bay Executive Order. A draft of a report created under the order says agriculture is responsible for more than half of bay pollution. Farm Bureau and other organizations have openly questioned sources used to generate the report, a draft of which will be available for public comment in November.

“The executive order should not be codified, because it will not become final until 2010,” Stoneman said. “It is a precedent-setting document with questionable authority.”

Proposed bill language also codifies deadlines for implementing a “Total Maximum Daily Load” for the bay and 99 of its tributaries; more than 30 are in Virginia. It establishes a maximum load or cap of nutrients and sediments that can be discharged to the bay from any source. “This will significantly limit new or beginning farm operations and place similar limits on expansion,” Stoneman said. “It also effectively expands the bay regulatory programs throughout the watershed. In Virginia, the bay watershed includes 60 percent of the land mass.”

To date, a TMDL of that magnitude has never been attempted, he added. “While the TMDL development is court-ordered, it should not be codified, because it is under development with unknown outcomes and because it bypasses the authority of the Virginia General Assembly.”

The proposed bill also codifies “Chesapeake Bay Milestones,” goals or initiatives to achieve Bay restoration in two-year increments. Gov. Tim Kaine and other governors from Chesapeake Bay states committed to impose the milestones, which may include continued and expanded cost-share funding, phytase additives in feed, mandatory nutrient management plans and mandatory fencing of streams.

Establishment of “citizen right of action” also is included in the proposed legislation. That will allow groups to take legal action against farms and other permitted projects to keep permits from being established or renewed. “That potentially pits farmers against both the regulatory system and the legal system anytime they need to acquire or renew a permit,” Stoneman said.

“These actions, if successful, have the potential to serve as the model for every water source that might be subject to similar requirements—with limited farmer input. Given the economic impact of agriculture in Virginia and other bay states, we believe they are ill-advised and potentially disastrous.”

Contact Stoneman at 804-290-1024.

NOTE: Farm Bureau members will hold a news conference at 9:30 on Dec. 2 during the final general session of the VFBF Annual Convention at the Richmond Marriott. Producer members will outline why they believe proposed changes to the Chesapeake Bay Program are potentially devastating. 

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