The American Farm Bureau Federation Tuesday, along with 14 state Farm Bureau organizations and 16 other national and regional agricultural organizations, filed a motion seeking to intervene in Gulf Restoration Network, et al. v. Jackson, et al., a lawsuit seeking to force the Environmental Protection Agency to establish federal numeric nutrient water quality standards for all states in the Mississippi River Basin. The resolution of the lawsuit could be significant for farmers, municipalities and others throughout the 31-state basin because numeric nutrient standards could lead to more costly and stringent limits on nutrient runoff to waters that ultimately contribute to the Mississippi River.
Under the Clean Water Act, states may use either "narrative" or "numeric" standards as a method for determining water quality. Most states in the Mississippi River Basin use narrative standards, such as "no nutrients at levels that cause a harmful imbalance of aquatic populations." However, if this lawsuit is successful, EPA would be forced to override existing state standards with federal water quality standards and to express those standards as specific numeric limits on nutrients.
"Setting appropriate numeric nutrient standards is a complex and difficult scientific undertaking and EPA has proven it is not up to the task," said AFBF President Bob Stallman. "Farmers have no reason to believe that EPA could establish scientifically defensible standards for any one state, much less for 40 percent of the U.S. land mass."
According to AFBF, there are limited circumstances under which the Clean Water Act allows EPA to step in the place of a state government to establish federal water quality standards. The organization is seeking to intervene in the lawsuit to clarify those limitations to the federal District Court in Louisiana, where the case is being heard.
"Farmers and their state governments in the Mississippi River Basin have worked successfully for years to minimize nutrient runoff and will continue to do so," said Stallman. "But we oppose a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach."
The following state Farm Bureaus intervened in the lawsuit: Arkansas; Illinois; Iowa; Kansas; Kentucky; Louisiana; Minnesota; Mississippi; Missouri; Nebraska; Oklahoma; South Dakota; Tennessee; and Wyoming.