Farm Bureau leader vows to take EPA fight to court - Agency oversteps its authority under Clean Water Act, Stallman says

Capital Press


ATLANTA -- In an apparent shift in strategy, the American Farm Bureau Federation will look to the courts to fight the Environmental Protection Agency's stepped-up efforts to regulate agriculture.

"Our message to the new Congress is clear: It is time to stop the EPA," American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman said Jan. 9 in his opening address to the 92nd AFBF annual convention in Atlanta.

"But we don't intend to leave this to Congress alone," Stallman said. "We are prepared to carry this battle to the courts."

In a press conference after his address, Stallman said the Farm Bureau expected to file suit Jan. 10 in Pennsylvania, charging that EPA violated the Clean Water Act when it imposed new water quality standards in the Chesapeake Bay region.

"This suit will seek to rein in EPA's latest and most aggressive effort to use the Clean Water Act to impose burdensome new regulations on agricultural production," Stallman said.

EPA has called for a 25 percent reduction in nitrogen levels, a 24 percent reduction in phosphorus and 20 percent reduction in sediment levels in Chesapeake Bay by 2025.

In the suit, Stallman said, the Farm Bureau will challenge EPA's authority to use pollution standards called total maximum daily loads, or TMDLs, to regulate agriculture in the region.

"EPA likes to call the TMDL a pollution diet," Stallman said, "but this diet threatens to starve agriculture out of the entire 64,000-square-mile Chesapeake Bay watershed."

The EPA has usurped the states' power to regulate water quality, he said.

"The Clean Water Act allows states to decide how they will improve water quality," and it allows them to take into account economic and social impacts, he said.

"What EPA was doing, we believe, was just over-riding all that," he said.

The EPA violates not only the Clean Water Act but the administrative procedures act, Stallman said.

"This new approach will not end with the bay," Stallman said. "EPA has already revealed its plan to take similar action in other watersheds across the country."

Stallman said the suit isn't about whether farmers will work to achieve clean water.

"Our lawsuit is about whether EPA can dictate how we get there, and at what cost," he said.

The announcement of the suit comes on top of a Farm Bureau lawsuit challenging EPA's greenhouse gas regulations.

"These regulations seek to unilaterally impose costly restrictions on common emissions that Congress has refused to regulate," he said. "It is clear to us that over the last two years, EPA has established some of the most burdensome, and we believe illegal, environmental regulations ever."

Lawyer Tim Bernasek, who served on the Farm Bureau's legal advisory team in the mid-2000s, said it was refreshing to learn the organization is turning more to the legal system to influence farm policy.

"For Stallman to spend that much time on legal issues so early in his address, I've never seen that before," Bernasek said. "That to me was a signal of a renewed commitment to legal advocacy within the Farm Bureau."

Environmentalists have been pressing their positions in court for 30 years, Bernasek said, "and it is important that we are there, too."

Stallman said the organization in 2011 will also focus on improving public perception of modern agricultural practices.

"We know that we are committed to producing safe and nutritious food," he said, "and we know we work to protect and enhance the environment, and we know we humanely care for our animals. The public, our neighbors, still want to be convinced. Improving consumer trust is job one.

"Today, consumer engagement has gone beyond the point of just being a nice-sounding goal," Stallman said. "It has become a point of action."

Stallman also congratulated the thousands of state and county Farm Bureau members in the audience on achieving a milestone.

"Today, thanks to you," he said, "we celebrate 50 consecutive years of growth."

American Farm Bureau membership stands at 6.2 million member families. Fifty years ago, he said, membership stood at 1.6 million families.