You may not live on the Chesapeake Bay or have a processing plant or contracts with poultry farms in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. However, you need to be just as concerned for the future as those who find themselves right in the middle of the Environment Protection Agency’s bull’s-eye on the region.

The Chesapeake Bay watershed will be the model for EPA’s approach to other major watersheds. EPA will establish and oversee a strict “pollution diet” known as the total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) for nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment throughout the Bay watershed, which includes portions of six states, and the District of Columbia, spread over 64,000 square miles, with a population of 14 million.

Limits assigned  

During the summer, EPA set region-wide limits for nitrogen and phosphorus at 187.4 million and 12.5 million pounds per year, respectively, and set a range of allowable sediment levels at between 6.1 and 6.7 billion pounds per year. The limits are divided among no less than 92 smaller segments that make up the total watershed.

The states and D.C. were given the task of figuring out how to meet the limits assigned to each individual watershed and to the state (or District) as a whole. These plans were turned into EPA for review.

EPA didn’t like most of them. The agency announced in September that Virginia, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Delaware and New York have “serious deficiencies” in their plans and would have to accept “federal backstop measures” to bring the plans up to EPA’s expectations.

Backstop measures  

“EPA’s backstop measures focus on tightening controls on federally permitted point sources of pollution, such as wastewater treatment plants, large animal agriculture operations and municipal stormwater systems,” the agency said.
Notice that animal agriculture – chicken, turkey, dairy, beef and hog farms – is among the “big three” of point sources, along with sewage plants and stormwater runoff. Agriculture is actually considered to be the largest single source of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment loading to the Bay – 44% of nitrogen and phosphorous and 65% of sediment.

Improvements to sewage and stormwater systems are expensive, with the cost falling on local ratepayers, and are therefore politically unpopular. We have to expect that the brunt of the burden will fall on privately-owned farms, whether or not they are big enough to qualify as “concentrated animal feeding operations” (CAFOs) or are merely “animal feeding operations” (AFOs).

Adjustments ‘as necessary’  

What could happen? EPA spells out what it wants: “CAFO production areas: Waste management, barnyard runoff control, mortality composting. Precision feed management for all animals. Same standards apply to AFOs not subject to CAFO permits EXCEPT no feed management on dairies; designation as necessary. Additional adjustments to agriculture nonpoint sources as necessary to exactly meet July 1 and August 13 nutrient and sediment allocations.”

When EPA gets through with its “additional adjustments,” you have to wonder how many farms will be left.

Regulatory authority  

For legal authority to impose a vast regulatory system on the region, EPA is leaning on a sweetheart deal that settled a lawsuit filed by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF). The lawsuit was filed at the very end of the Bush Administration, and the Obama team moved quickly to settle it and put the federal government in charge of cleaning up the bay.

People in Washington are saying that whatever the Obama Administration can’t get through legislation, it will try to get through regulation. You can see that in the attempt by USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) to overturn longstanding practices in poultry and livestock production and marketing. EPA’s Chesapeake power grab is another example. If EPA gets away with it, you can expect the agency will bring the same tools to a watershed near you.