Thursday, May 26, 2011

Farmers versus Everybody Else

The Bay news today is full of article about the Ag interests suit against the EPA Bay cleanup proposal (TMDL, aka Bay Pollution Diet).  In January, the American Bureau Federation filed suit against the EPA, alleging EPA over reached it's authority and used bad science to formulate its plan:

Yesterday, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a number of other NGOs, including Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, Defenders of Wildlife, the Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy, the National Wildlife Federation and the Jefferson County Public Service District, and the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (an organization representing sewer authorities nationwide) announced that they intended to intervene on EPA's side in the lawsuit if possible.  There was clearly a mass e-mailing of talking points yesterday as the news rattled around the region today :

So where am I on all this?  In the muddle I suppose.  Yes, to clean up nutrients in the bay, we have to do something about agricultural inputs.  As Willie Sutton said "I rob banks because that's where the money is".  Agriculture is one of the biggest sources of nutrients to the bay.

But then, so is urban wastewater, and they are joining EPA's side in the suit.  Why?  Why not!  If told by the EPA to institute a particular technology to clean their effluent, they grumble, and do it.  How?  They get a grant from the state, a grant from the feds, or god forbid, they actually raise the water and sewage rates for the municipality.  The money doesn't come out of their hide.

On the other hand, the farmers, even the big agricultural giants (and you'll see lots or references to giant agribusinesses in the links above), actually exist to make a profit.  In a good year they do, in a bad year, they might not.  They might get some help from the government to offset some of the costs (if they have good grant writers), but in all likelihood, the costs of those upgrades will be reflected in increased costs of their product.  If they have no competitors outside the region, those costs will merely be transferred to the consumer, us.  If they have competitors outside the region, the added cost may well make the difference between making money and staying in business in the long run or losing money and going out of business.  I can see why they might not be enthusiastic to take EPA's first proposal.

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