Coalition: New study shows EPA nutrient diet needs 'timeout'

WASHINGTON—A new report that compares the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s computer model of Chesapeake Bay clean-up efforts with conservation records from the U.S. Department of Agriculture has found numerous inconsistencies, calling into question the entire EPA "nutrient diet" proposal for the bay watershed.

"If the USDA’s numbers are right, they say farmers don’t have to do anything in regards to reducing phosphorus and sediment. They’ve already met their 2025 goals," said Don Parrish, senior director of regulatory relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation.

"The study really does point out that the EPA’s model is not statistically accurate on the scale that they want to use it on. They haven’t documented their scenario-builder, and they haven’t accounted for the conservation practices that farmers are actually using on the land. Therefore, (the study) calls into question the entire model, and not just for farmers, but for localities," Parrish said.

The study was commissioned by a coalition of agriculture groups, including the AFBF. Prepared by LimnoTech, a water science and environmental engineering consulting firm, it compared the EPA’s TMDL plans with those in a draft USDA report, Assessment of the Effects of Conservation Practices on Cultivated Cropland in the Chesapeake Bay Region. The LimnoTech report found inconsistencies in data and modeling for the total acreage and land use in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. They included differences in hydrology, assumptions about conservation practices, model frameworks and model results.

Based on those differences, the report calls for a "timeout" on proceeding with the EPA’s TMDL plan until better data and a more accurate approach to reducing runoff can be developed with all stakeholders.

"Earlier this fall the EPA allowed only a 45-day comment period for the most complex nutrient management plan that’s ever been done, and it’s obvious the EPA was trying to rush this plan through because it didn’t want meaningful stakeholder input," Parrish said. "It’s vital for the EPA to get accurate information, since it would be ordering localities and farmers to spend billions of dollars to retrofit homes, roads and parking lots at a time when people are going to have a hard time finding the money to do that."

The Virginia Farm Bureau Federation has been a leading opponent of the current EPA nutrient diet plan for the bay watershed. Under the EPA’s proposal, billions of dollars would have to be spent by farmers and local governments throughout the watershed to further reduce runoff, including an estimated $800 million in Virginia alone just to fence livestock out of every stream in the watershed.

"This report only highlights what Farm Bureau has been saying all along, that the EPA figures aren’t accurate when it comes to current agricultural conservation practices," said VFBF President Wayne F. Pryor. "It’s time to step back and take a more measured and accurate approach to protecting the bay, one that better targets our scarce public and private dollars."

Parrish said AFBF will be working in the next Congress to promote an approach similar to that laid out in a House bill co-sponsored by Pennsylvania Rep. Tim Holden and Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte. It includes a timetable for further reducing farm runoff, but offers more voluntary incentives and calls for more accurate estimates of cleanup efforts.

Contact Parrish at 202-406-3667 or Wilmer Stoneman, VFBF associate director of governmental relations, at 804-290-1024.

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