Chicken Growers Urged to Contact Congress

Two developments in recent weeks stress the urgency for persons in Delmarva's chicken industry, especially farm families that grow chickens, to contact their federal legislators to let them know of concerns about issues related to the Chesapeake Bay.

There are two nearly identical bills in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, S. 1816 and H.R. 3852. Each calls for expansion of federal government controls on farms while reauthorizing the existing EPA Chesapeake Bay Program. Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc. (DPI) supports an extension of the present Chesapeake Bay Program in the federal Clean Water Act, but is troubled by many sections of the bills that create more federal government control and oversight and possibility more lawsuits against farmers and chicken growers.

Senate Bill 1816, sponsored by Maryland Senator Ben Cardin and co-sponsored by Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski and Delaware Senators Tom Carper and Ted Kaufman, and House Bill 3852, sponsored by Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings and co-sponsored by Delaware Congressman Mike Castle, threaten the future of our chicken industry.

Here are the most recent reasons why these two bills are of concern.

The Waterkeeper Alliance, a water quality improvement group that works through lawsuits rather than cooperation, is flying over chicken farms looking for alleged water quality violations. It recently announced plans to file a lawsuit against a Maryland lower Eastern Shore chicken grower and his integrator based on photographs that show something other than chicken manure being stored outside. This type of “third party lawsuit” will be encouraged by these two federal bills. More of this aerial surveillance and filing of lawsuits can be expected if either of these bills becomes law. Such actions can threaten Delmarva's chicken growers financially because of the costs that growers might incur to defend themselves, even against baseless lawsuits.

Secondly, a reorganization of the U.S. Department of Agriculture has removed a USDA senior advisor to the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program. The removal of Mrs. Dana York from her position means there will be less support from the Obama government to help chicken growers and other farmers deal with President Obama’s May 2009 Chesapeake Bay Executive Order and the court-required Total Maximum Daily Load pollution reduction program. Mrs. York has been a tremendous asset to agriculture and her transfer within USDA is a big blow to agriculture’s efforts to deal with Obama government water quality issues. While the decision to reorganize the USDA is an Obama government prerogative, chicken industry persons are urged to let their federal legislators know that this decision will be harmful to agriculture.

Here are other reasons why DPI is concerned about the two federal bills, S. 1816 and H.R. 3852.

The chicken industry supports a reauthorization of the current Chesapeake Bay program. EPA already has the power through the Clean Water Act to accomplish the Chesapeake Bay clean water goals. We cannot support a massive federal expansion of EPA’s authority that poses serious consequences for agriculture. A top-down, heavy handed federal approach will not lead to the kind of real-world changes that are necessary to ensure the health of the Bay.

• Delmarva chicken growers have been longstanding partners in the effort to protect the Bay. Existing federal and state cost-share programs and technical assistance have expanded agriculture’s contributions to water quality improvements while other segments of society are going backwards. These assistance programs are welcomed and should be expanded.

• The bills propose sweeping expanded federal authority and enforcement power for EPA over farms.

• The bills set an un-level playing field for farms in the Chesapeake Bay region by establishing a higher level of EPA regulation than the rest of the country.

• The bills give EPA unprecedented authority to take any and all action it deems necessary to reach Bay restoration goals. This includes the possibility of requiring all livestock operations, regardless of size, and possibly any farmer that fertilizes a field, to operate under a Clean Water Act permit.

• Through codifying executive and regulatory authorities, the bills will hamper innovative solutions in areas such as nutrient trading, farm adaptive management, and overall water quality restoration.

• By codifying specific pollutant caps in law, the bills may be freezing both science and policy. Codifying the pollutant caps could preclude EPA and the states from using flexibility in reaching desired goals.

• The bills put into law specific caps for the court-ordered Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load and give EPA ultimate authority to implement the program. EPA may promulgate any regulation and issue any permit necessary, notwithstanding any other provision of the Clean Water Act – effectively repealing the stormwater exemption for farms in the watershed.

• The bills authorize states to issue permits under the Clean Water Act to any pollution source the state determines to be necessary to achieve the nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment reductions in the state implementation plan. These permits are authorized for any source of pollution. The permits are then fully enforceable by EPA and could be subject to citizen lawsuits.

• Penalty provisions allow EPA to force only permitted businesses to make further pollution reductions in the event that the rest of society does not do what it is asked to do.

• EPA would have authority to order all permitted entities to reduce discharges - meaning poultry farms could be told to reduce flock sizes. EPA could dictate farming practices such as fertilization, harvest, and cover crop planting dates. EPA would have the authority to deny permits – meaning new or young farmers may be denied the opportunity to farm.

• The bills authorize a pollution offset program that allows polluters to buy credits from entities that reduce pollution. This is touted as being beneficial to farmers who would have credits to sell. The problem with this concept is that there will be no offsets available on many watershed farms. The bills mandate that offsets may only be sold after a farm reaches its individual nutrient reduction obligation. Under the TMDL program mandated in the bills, the expectation is that every farm will have to install every BMP available on every acre just to reach the goal. Experts in this area agree that there will be no farm offsets left to sell.

DPI urges persons interested in keeping the chicken industry on Delmarva to contact their elected officials in Washington and let them know that these bills are not the best way to reach water quality improvements and actually threaten farming in our region.

Maryland Senator Ben Cardin - E-mail

Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski - E-mail

Delaware Senator Tom Carper - E-mail

Delaware Senator Ted Kaufman - E-mail

Virginia Senator Mark Warner - E-mail

Virginia Senator Jim Webb - E-mail

Maryland Congressman Frank Kratovil - E-mail

Delaware Congressman Mike Castle - E-mail

Virginia Congressman Glenn Nye - E-mail

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