District wants to side with EPA in dispute with farm groups over bay cleanup efforts
May 26, 2011
CHARLES TOWN - The Jefferson County Public Service District is joining with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and other groups to intervene on the side of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in a lawsuit brought by the American Farm Bureau Federation, which is opposing the EPA's Chesapeake Bay restoration program.
JCPSD President Joseph A. Hankins said that the PSD's concern is if the allocation limits are reduced that have been imposed on the agriculture sector to control pollution getting into the Chesapeake Bay, making up the difference would fall onto the regulated entities, meaning sewer treatment plant operators like the PSD.
"Our concern is to make sure that everybody does their share," Hankins said Wednesday.
The three-member PSD board voted unanimously to join the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's request to intervene in the federal case at its May 2 meeting after a great deal of discussion, Hankins said.
There is no cost to the PSD to join the legal battle, he said, adding that legal fees will be covered by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
JCPSD General Manager Susanne Lawton added that all utilities should stay abreast of the suit.
"The outcome could have great effects on utilities," she said Wednesday.
"We want to stay in the loop. We want to be in a position to comment if we need to."
The American Farm Bureau Federation sued the EPA in January over the stricter federally led effort, and other groups have since joined the challenge. Critics say it is too far-reaching and will burden states with huge costs.
The foundation says it was filing a motion to intervene in U.S. District Court in Harrisburg, Pa.
The foundation, which has sued the EPA over the slow pace of restoration efforts, said it was being joined by groups including the National Wildlife Federation, the Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy, Defenders of Wildlife and Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future, as well as the JCPSD.
"Their motive is profit. Our motive is clean water and the protection of human health," said Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William Baker.
Environmental groups gathered for the announcement said it was a battle of corporate interests against hundreds of thousands of individuals interested in restoring the bay.
"No one industry has the right to destroy the bay," said Timothy Junkin, director of the Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy.
An attorney for the American Farm Bureau Federation said environmental groups are mischaracterizing their court challenge.
AFB attorney Ellen Steen also said the federation has not yet reviewed the motion to intervene and has not decided whether it opposes the motion or not.
Steen said Farm Bureau members are working hard on bay restoration and the organization is not fighting to stop or slow restoration efforts. The Farm Bureau believes the EPA has overstepped its authority and the states should be driving the effort - not the federal agency, she said.
"We want the EPA to stick within the bounds of its authority," Steen said, adding the suit is "about who gets to decide exactly how it gets done, the EPA or the states."
The EPA's strategy puts everyone in the six-state bay watershed on a "pollution diet" with Total Maximum Daily Load allocations divided over regions for how much sediment and nutrient, that is nitrogen and phosphorus, runoff can come from each area.
Jefferson County and the rest of the greater, eight-county Eastern Panhandle are in the Potomac River watershed. The Potomac is a major tributary to the Chesapeake Bay.
Farmers and agriculture interests are concerned about the strategy because agriculture is the single largest source of bay pollutants, according to the EPA's Chesapeake Bay model. While agriculture has made gains in reducing bay pollution, the strategy calls for even more reductions from all sectors.
Jon Mueller, the foundation's vice president for litigation, said the AFB challenge was based on three arguments - that the EPA lacks authority, the science behind the strategy is flawed, and the public did not have enough opportunity to comment. Mueller said all of the claims lack merit and the foundation was seeking the opportunity to convince the court.
To join the case, the foundation attorney said the criteria are that the motion is timely, the groups have an interest in the case and whether those interests will be adequately represented by the government.
Mueller said the last is the toughest to prove, but the groups feel their interests are distinct from the government's and they should be allowed to join the case.
The government is not a ratepayer, for example, Mueller said, noting the interest of JCPSD.
"What ag wants to do is say our part of the budget should be changed," Mueller said.
If that happens, others will have to cut more to meet the strategy's reduction goals, which is why groups such as the JCPSD are seeking to intervene.
Mueller said he expected other ratepayer groups would eventually become involved in the court battle.
Junkin said agriculture groups are fighting back because the strategy is making everyone sacrifice and is a model for efforts in other waterways nationwide.
"They realize for the first time they might have to sacrifice along with everyone else," Junkin said. "It's a very, very important battle."
- The Associated Press contributed to this story.
- Staff writer John McVey can be reached at 304-263-3381, ext. 128, or email@example.com