Source: The Fertilizer Institute

The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) rush to implement a Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) rule was front and center in the House of Representatives last week as Tom Hebert, a senior advisor to the Agricultural Nutrient Policy Council (ANPC), brought conflicts between EPA and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data to the attention of members of the Subcommittee on Conservation Energy and Forestry of the House Committee on Agriculture.

Hebert's testimony focused on a public report commissioned by the ANPC calling for the need for EPA to reconcile differences between its estimates and USDA estimates of agriculture's contribution to nutrient pollution in the Chesapeake Bay watershed before it proceeds with the TMDL.

During the hearing, several House members cited the report commissioned by the ANPC which found EPA's baseline sediment loads were almost three times the size USDA's. Hebert noted that this may be due to EPA's assumption that half the crop acres in the Bay are being plowed, and USDA data says at least 88 percent are in conservation tillage. Additionally the study found that EPA's nitrogen estimates are about 25 percent lower than USDA's and EPA's phosphorus loads are 25 percent higher than USDA's.

"In terms of sediment and phosphorus, this comparison could be interpreted to mean that agriculture has already met its TMDL obligations and in the case of nitrogen it would indicate that in absolute terms agriculture can meet EPA's TMDL load allocation," said Hebert. "But the real bottom line is that these differences are so substantial that the need for further work on the TMDL is apparent."

"Farmers are willing to continue doing their part to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, but these actions will require significant resources," said Rod Snyder, director of public policy with the National Corn Growers Association and ANPC steering committee member. "If EPA bases its regulatory decisions on flawed modeling, we risk investing time and money in areas with limited environmental benefit. This is bad for the farm economy and bad for the Bay."

"If a faulty model means that EPA misses the mark on what's required of agriculture, producers and agribusinesses across the region can't wait another five years for them to get it right," said Lisa Kelley, vice president of government affairs and chief of staff of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and ANPC steering committee member. "If it turns out that EPA's assessment was wrong, tens of millions of dollars will have been wasted for little or no environmental benefit."

"With pressure on federal and state government resources at an all-time high, it makes no sense at all for EPA to impose the Chesapeake Bay TMDL before it knows it has accurate impact data," said TFI Vice President of Scientific Programs and ANPC steering committee member, Bill Herz.

The ANPC is a new organization that was formed in September 2010 by five agricultural organizations. It has grown to include more than 30 participants from the agricultural and forestry sectors that share the goal of seeking sound federal policy involving nutrients and environmental quality. The purpose of the ANPC is to support participants' efforts to achieve that goal by drawing on and applying their expertise in the relevant areas of science, technology, law and policy and coordinating those efforts with outside experts on these matters. ANPC participants are supportive of protecting and improving water quality.

Also testifying at the hearing were: Dave White, chief, Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C.; Bob Perciasepe, deputy administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C.; Doug Domenech, secretary of natural resources, Commonwealth of Virginia, Richmond, Va.; Carl Shaffer, president, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, Mifflin Township, Pennsylvania; Lynne Hoot, executive director, Maryland Association of Soil Conservation Districts, Maryland Grain Producers Association, Edgewater, Md; and Hobey Bauhan, president, Virginia Poultry Federation, Harrisonburg, Va.