Gus Douglass wants board to not intervene on side of EPA
June 17, 2011
MARTINSBURG - West Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture Gus Douglass has sent a scathing letter to the board of the Jefferson County Public Service District lambasting it for joining on the side of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in a lawsuit brought by the American Farm Bureau Federation, opposing the EPA's Chesapeake Bay restoration program.
The PSD's board voted unanimously at its May meeting to join with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and other groups to intervene in support of the EPA in the Farm Bureau's suit against the federal agency.
EPA has ordered the six states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to drastically reduce the amount of nutrient, that is nitrogen and phosphorus, and sediment pollution getting into the bay through its tributaries.
The Potomac River is a major tributary to the bay, and the greater, eight-county Eastern Panhandle is in the Potomac River basin.
EPA's new pollution limits target agricultural operations, wastewater treatment plants and stormwater runoff.
Joseph A. Hankins, JCPSD president, told The Journal in an earlier interview that if new pollution limits imposed on agricultural operations are weakened because of the Farm Bureau's lawsuit, the PSD fears that wastewater treatment plant operators would be required to account for the difference in the pollution limits set by the EPA.
"Our concern is to make sure that everybody does their share," he said earlier.
In his letter, Douglass singles out Hankins.
"I am even more disappointed to see JCPSD President Joseph Hankin's (sic) comments in ... The Journal implying that West Virginia's family farmers have not done their fair share to protect water quality in the Chesapeake Bay watershed," Douglass writes.
"He is either badly misinformed about their conservation efforts, or chooses to set rural and urban West Virginians against each other," he continues.
Douglass concludes his two-page letter with "I respectfully request that the JCPSD reconsider its position as the only public service district in the state to join in this lawsuit, and to publicly affirm its support of agriculture, both as an economic driver and as a protector of the natural resources on which we all rely."
The National Association of Clean Water Agencies also has requested to intervene on the side of the EPA. NACWA members include wastewater treatment operators across the country including JCPSD and the Morgantown Utility Board, according to its website.
Douglass announced earlier that he would not seek re-election next year to his 12th term as commissioner of agriculture. His current term expires at the end of 2012.
Hankins was out of town Thursday and unable to comment, but he sent an email to The Journal with the following statement: "Our Board is aware of the letter and will be making a thoughtful and factual response back to Secretary Douglass. We'll have a comment then."
- Staff writer John McVey can be reached at 304-263-3381, ext. 128, or firstname.lastname@example.org