Farmers Question EPA’s Chesapeake Study

For the past year, mid-Atlantic farmers and the Environmental Protection Agency have been fighting over the status of the Chesapeake Bay, with the EPA seeking to limit environmental degradation to major U.S. waterways and farmers arguing that the agency is an example of an over-regulatory federal government.

The Chesapeake Bay has been a potent symbol for environmentalists for decades. In the 1970s, the bay became the first body of water to contain an identifiable marine dead zone, an area of water where oxygen has been so depleted that life can no longer be sustained. These dead zones have expanded, wreaking havoc on the marine ecosystem.

The cause of this environmental degradation was pollution discharged into the bay. A major part of this pollution was runoff from farms along Chesapeake waterways. The heavy use of chemical fertilizers, combined with runoff after storms, led to large amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen entering the bay, encouraging large-scale algae blooms that covered the surface of the water, blocking sunlight and depleting oxygen.

In an effort to help restore the bay, the EPA increased regulation of sediment discharge into Chesapeake waterways, instituting stricter controls on farms across the mid-Atlantic. The regulations rely on computer models, which are based on pollution data collected across the region.

Some farmers are criticizing these data, arguing that they do not present the full picture of environmental consciousness. For example, many Chesapeake farms use voluntary best-management practices to reduce runoff and erosion. These practices are not always included in gathered data. In addition, many farmers claim that the EPA model assumes the worst, vastly overestimating the pollutants contained in farm runoff.

Regardless of the accuracy of the model, farmers are also challenging the EPA’s right to impose these regulations at all. Farm advocacy groups have sued in federal court, arguing that the Chesapeake project represents a vast overstepping of the EPA’s mission.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer