Friday, March 25, 2011

The New Boss Speaks

EPA's Chesapeake advisor responds to TMDL criticism
WASHINGTON — On behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Justice filed a response March 14 in federal court to a lawsuit from American Farm Bureau Federation and Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.

The lawsuit challenges the legality of EPA's actions while creating a Total Maximum Daily Load plan for the Chesapeake Bay.

A main allegation is EPA over-stepped its authority by not allowing states in the watershed to have control over how they would reduce the amount of nitrogen, sediment and phosphorus entering the bay.

"We would adamantly disagree," said Jeff Corbin, senior adviser to EPA administrator Lisa P. Jackson on the Chesapeake Bay.

All stakeholders in the watershed have been making progress on its restoration for years and have been at the table, having a voice in the TMDL process, Corbin said. Jurisdictions — the six states in the watershed plus Washington, D.C. — decided how to meet their load allocations. Their only requirement from EPA is to achieve their goals within the set time line, Corbin said.

Jurisdictions must meet milestones every two years, which will help states reassess their plans and change them if they're not working, Corbin said.
The ongoing war between the farmers and the EPA and its surrogates continues.  There was never any doubt where the new EPA Bay adviser would come down.  He would never have been chosen if he hadn't been reliable.  Having a voice in the TMDL process isn't the same as being heard.  Farmers are in a hard spot.  If farmers in the bay watershed have their costs raised or their production reduced by pollution reduction measures and those of their competitors not in the area are not, they will either become less profitable, or if already marginal, may be pushed out of business.  The EPA and it's surrogates simply don't care.  To them, the nasty polluting farmers are the enemy, and the sooner they go out of business and let the Chesapeake Bay drainage area go back to precolonial forest, the better (never mind the megalopolises scattered around the landscape).  No doubt they'll be content to eat food from the gardens on the grounds of their suburban houses with 7 acres of converted farm fields, complete with free range chickens and a goat or two to milk, or free range Chilean Sea Bass.  They will, however, give lip service to the farmers plight:
Another criticism is the TMDL could force farmers off the land by adding regulations that make it increasing difficult to farm. Corbin said states could certainly decide to take land out of production if that's how they decide to meet their pollution allocations. However, it's EPA's preference to include farmers in conservation efforts, he said.

"Farmland, if properly managed, is one of the best land uses you can have out there," he said. "...We've been working very closely with USDA over this. Unfortunately, so much (of the focus) gets down to a few of these issues, like the model and the cost. Our agency and USDA are working hard to clean the bay and keep farmers farming."
Notice, no denial...  On the other hand, yep, agriculture is a big part of the problem, and needs to be a big part of the solution.  About 45% of the nitrogen pollution to the Bay is from Ag.  That's clearly where the big gains are likely to come from.  However, the cities, the other big, identifiable source of shit, is getting considerable outside help in meeting it's goals, in the form of federal support for sewage treatment, and the "flush" tax in MD, which hits all, but serves to meet the goals of the cities.

However, money is limited.  The feds are broke (well past, actually) and any new money, as well as much of the current money, they spend on the Bay is borrowed from our kids, who aren't being consulted.  It may or may not be worth the investment, but the people ultimately paying the bill don't get to decide.  So I have more sympathy for the farmers than for the municipalities.  I think some means of shifting the subsidies from the cities to the farms should be considered.
In 2002, a fiscal analysis launched by the Chesapeake Bay Commission estimated the cost for a clean bay would be $18.7 billion over eight years.

What people aren't talking about is the value of a restored bay, said Corbin.

Administrator Jackson has stated millions of people rely on it for their livelihood and way of life. According to the Chesapeake Bay Commission, the bay had an estimated value of $678 billion in 1989.

"We're absolutely confident that this will work," Corbin said about the feasibility of restoring the bay.
To say I'm suspicious of these numbers is an understatement.  Government chronically underestimates the costs others have to pay to satisfy its desires, and chronically overestimates the values of it's own services (in this case the "value" of the bay.  I'll bet that for the first $20 billion, we won't get anywhere close to a solution of the problems.  I wouldn't even begin to know what the line is to which they aspire.  A goal of a "precolonial" bay is unrealistic; where, between the current bay and that is the desired state? 1930? 1950? As for the value, make it an even trillion; the government currently spends those in a fraction of a year. But I don't seen the Bay being likely to contribute 5% of GDP (currently ~15T), even over a substantial time period.  Honestly, can you imaging the CHESAPEAKE BAY COMMISSION underestimating the value of the bay?  Nope, me neither.

OK, I'm done for today.  This fight isn't over, and its not like everybody doesn't have a burden to bear in this.

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