By STEVE KILAR
WASHINGTON (March 16, 2011) The Environmental Protection Agency's method to estimate the amount of poultry manure that leaches into the Chesapeake Bay was just one policy challenged during Wednesday's meeting of the House Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy and Forestry.
"In one instance, the agency estimated that 15 percent of all manure from poultry farms is lost and runs off into waterways in the Chesapeake Bay," said Hobey Bauhan of the Virginia Poultry Federation, who called the estimation "absurdly large."
Bauhan and other witnesses questioned the EPA's calculations and statistical models for determining how much pollution can be attributed to farming.
The hearing, called to review the bay watershed's agricultural conservation practices and "pollution diet," was the first meeting of the subcommittee since Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives in January. Maryland does not have any representatives on the conservation subcommittee or on its umbrella group, the House Committee on Agriculture.
At the heart of the hearing was the question of whether the methods used by the federal government to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay should be extended to other watersheds across the country. The EPA has suggested that the Chesapeake Bay model is one that should be followed in other multi-state water clean-up efforts.
The Republican subcommittee members at the hearing appeared resistant to expanding Chesapeake-style pollution reduction programs.
A key component of the Chesapeake Bay program, which began in the early 1980s and is administered by federal agencies—including the USDA and EPA—and departments from Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., and New York, is the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), the amount of daily pollution that a body of water can absorb and still meet water quality standards.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., who proposed a budget amendment in February to eliminate all federal funding for TMDL-style maintenance of the Chesapeake Bay, asked a farm industry witness if, nationwide, farmers are concerned that they may have to "abide by the draconian requirements the Chesapeake Bay producers will have to meet under this TMDL?"
"That's a very fair statement and the answer's 'Yes,'" said Tom Hebert, a senior adviser to the Agricultural Nutrient Policy Council, which represents the farming industry. "Agriculture as a whole knows what happens in Chesapeake Bay could be facing them throughout the rest of the country and very much want to make sure that this (implementation of Chesapeake-style programs) is done right."
Republican resistance to the EPA's potential expansion of the TMDL program beyond the Chesapeake Bay region stems from members' belief that the agency is acting outside of its authority in its regulation of states' water pollution plans.
Under the Clean Water Act, states are required to compile a list of polluted waterways and then establish the maximum amount of pollutants each can handle while still meeting cleanliness standards.
Subcommittee Chairman Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., Goodlatte, and other Republican members of the panel repeatedly questioned the EPA's authority to approve state water pollution plans.
"Once we delegate the authorities to the states—that they are required to set the standards and put the plans in place to meet those standards—the EPA, if those are not sufficient, does have the authority under the Clean Water Act to backstop that," said Bob Perciasepe, deputy administrator of the EPA and Maryland's former environment secretary. "We do not want to do that. Our objective is to work with the states cooperatively to get the work done."