Become a digitalPLUS subscriber. 99¢ for 4 weeks.
News Opinion Editorial

The pro-pollution AGs [Editorial]

The cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay has posed an extraordinary challenge. It has taken decades of effort, cost billions of dollars and required shared sacrifice from setting aside shoreline "buffer" strips to banning phosphate detergents. Now comes word that the fight will not only be against pollution but also against nearly half the country, too.

That's because the attorneys general from 21 states have joined a lawsuit brought by the American Farm Bureau Federation that seeks to toss out the so-called "pollution diet" or "Total Maximum Daily Load," the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-led effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. The four-year-old campaign has already had a positive impact on the estuary and has raised hopes that real progress is at hand.

We have railed against the Farm Bureau's legal maneuverings before. Theirs is a misguided and selfish effort to protect farmers against water pollution controls — new standards that might, for instance, hold large poultry companies liable for the harmful runoff that can be traced to the millions of pounds of chicken manure spread on farm fields.

Such accountability is only possible if the EPA has the ability to enforce Clean Water Act standards on states, which nevertheless retain the flexibility to decide how they will achieve specific water quality goals. It is a partnership that protects the broad public interest — making sure the Chesapeake Bay watershed's six states and the District of Columbia are doing their fair share.

It is shocking, however, to see so many attorneys general attack that effort in what amounts to a declaration of environmental war. How else to describe the decision by the attorneys general of Alabama, Texas, South Carolina and the rest to endorse a lawsuit that, if successful, would so threaten the future of the nation's largest estuary?

Why interfere with an environmental campaign that is working — and in a cooperative manner at that? Simply put, it's because they fear the EPA will use the successful Chesapeake Bay program as a model for cleaning up other badly-polluted bodies of water from the Mississippi River to the Great Lakes.

But it's also likely because there are parts of this country where it's become politically advantageous to be against whatever the Obama administration's EPA is for. The Republican Party has so vilified the federal agency that it is simply assumed that every regulation it promulgates is anti-jobs, anti-free market and anti-American — as if countries with lax environmental regulations such as China and Russia posed an opportunity for anything other than cancer clusters.

Even so, let's all be embarrassed for West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who is one of the rogue attorneys general despite his state's past commitments to the Chesapeake Bay cleanup. Clearly, Mr. Morrisey ought to spend a bit more time safeguarding his own drinking water supply in the wake of the devastating chemical spill in Charleston last month and less on undermining efforts to reduce water pollution in neighboring states.

The farm bureau has already lost this argument once, having been rejected at the U.S. District Court level last fall. It is likely to lose again on appeal because the arguments against the program — that the science is flawed or that EPA has insufficient regulatory authority — don't hold water. Manure is manure, and no amount of legal-tussling is going to safeguard a river or stream unless somebody is required to dispose of it properly.

This is a process that, as Judge Sylvia Rambo noted last September when she ruled against the farm bureau, can be "messy and cumbersome." But here's something else that's cumbersome (at least to taxpayers) — passage of a nearly $1 trillion farm bill that provides billions of dollars for the benefit of farmers, including $250 million specifically earmarked for those trying to meet the obligations imposed by the Chesapeake Bay TMDL. You can bet you won't see similar appeasements offered to developers, manufacturers or sewage plant operators.

So let's not cry too big a river for the agricultural community either in the bay watershed or in Alabama, Texas or the other states represented by the pro-pollution attorneys general. All that's being asked is that they be held responsible for their share of the nitrogen, phosphorus, sediments and toxics that are killing fish and shellfish in our waterways. Such accountability ought not only to be allowed in Maryland but ought to be welcomed everywhere else, too.

To respond to this editorial, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • What about Pa. manure?
    What about Pa. manure?

    On an almost recurring basis lately, The Sun has devoted itself to bringing to everyone's attention the Eastern Shore poultry industry's polluted runoff flowing into the Chesapeake Bay ("Larry Hogan has a chance to be a green governor," Dec. 13). Attention should be directed to the Amish...

  • New rules needed to protect Eastern Shore waterways
    New rules needed to protect Eastern Shore waterways

    After talking about it for years, Maryland finally has proposed long-overdue regulations on phosphorous pollution from animal manure in the Chesapeake Bay ("Hogan vows to fight farm pollution rules," Dec. 8).

  • Big Ag must be held to account for bay pollution
    Big Ag must be held to account for bay pollution

    Dan Rodricks' arguments for protecting the Chesapeake Bay from pollution from chicken farms could have been even stronger ("Larry Hogan has a chance to be a green governor," Dec. 13).

  • Chicken industry threatens all other bay businesses
    Chicken industry threatens all other bay businesses

    Dan Rodricks' column on Gov.-elect Larry Hogan and the Chesapeake Bay missed an important fact: Mr. Hogan's pro-poultry industry comments and pledges are actually deeply hurtful to most Eastern Shore businesses ("Larry Hogan has a chance to be a green governor," Dec. 13).

  • Fix the Conowingo before another Hurricane Agnes hits [Letter]
    Fix the Conowingo before another Hurricane Agnes hits [Letter]

    I read with interest commentator Anirban Basu's article touting what a great asset the Conowingo dam is and how it enhances the lives of all Marylanders ("Support the dam to support Md.," Oct. 13).

  • How about aerators to clean up the bay?
    How about aerators to clean up the bay?

    I just read the article about dredging the Susquehanna River, and I couldn't help thinking back to the Seoul Olympics where they used aerators to clean up their filthy water and they got it clean enough that all of the rowing events were held in very safe water ("Study: Dredging little help...

  • Damming the bay's pollution
    Damming the bay's pollution

    Here's the gist of the recent report by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the Conowingo Dam: Don't confuse a red herring with a red tide. The notion that all the pollution woes of the Chesapeake Bay could be heaped on one 86-year-old hydroelectric facility on the Lower Susquehanna River was...

  • All Maryland's waterways deserve protection
    All Maryland's waterways deserve protection

    The Clean Water Act has brought progress to the Chesapeake Bay, but in order to continue the bay on the path to success we must protect all the waterways in Maryland, including the Anacostia River ("Close Clean Water Act loophole," Nov. 12).

Comments
Loading