— An article about U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta and U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey filing a legal brief supporting a Farm Bureau suit struck me as grandstanding, trying to close the barn door after all the cows are out. In 2010, a Pennsylvania court struck down the suit by the state and U.S. Farm Bureau that claimed that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had no jurisdiction in determining state stream and river pollution limits.
The federal Clean Water Act was signed in 1972 by a near unanimous Congress, and since then the EPA has continued to interpret and broaden its role in cleaning up America’s streams and rivers in collaboration with the states and with support of the courts. The Susquehanna River supplies 60 percent of water flowing into the Chesapeake Bay and it carries overloads of pollution from industry, cities, and farms. This has brought six states and D.C. to collaborate with the EPA to find and enforce a solution. Governor Corbett just signed the recent EPA agreement saying, it was, “a sensible way to approach improving water quality and the environment ... I applaud the cooperative efforts.”
However, Sen. Toomey complains that, “this is another example of the EPA trampling state law and imposing costly mandates on PA farmers.” While pollution from sewage, industry and storm water have improved, farm pollution is more difficult to reduce. PA Department of Environmental Protection (PA/DEP) calculations from 2009-12 show relatively little progress in reducing nitrogen pollution and suspended solids, mostly farm runoff, in our Susquehanna River and its tributaries.
Toomey says in the article that farmers have reduced nitrogen levels by 13 million pounds each year since 1985. If this were true, and it’s not, the level he states is more than twice the amount of nitrogen EPA and PA/DEP says is contributed by farmers in the Susquehanna River. Andy Zamba, Director of Interstate Waterways for PA DEP presented data on nitrogen in PA waterways at a 2012 conference (see state.awra.org/pennsylvania). In 1985, state agriculture polluted 70 million pounds of nitrogen, and in 2010, 60 million pounds, a reduction of 10 million pounds in 25 years.
An improvement, but 40 million pounds of nitrogen pollution remains to be stopped by farms by 2025. Pennsylvania farmers, staff from the state’s DEP and each county Conservation District are all working collaboratively to reach that goal. Funds from federal and private sources are available to help farmers in that effort, and are now being used by local farmers to reduce stream and river pollution in our beautiful state of Pennsylvania.
Ben Hoskins, Lewisburg