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TOP STORY, Nov. 24, 2015

Pa. Farm Bureau presses for Bay model improvements


AFP Correspondent

HERSHEY, Pa. — During the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau’s annual meeting, president Rick Ebert unveiled an initiative to accurately reflect farmer practices toward achieving reductions in nutrients that pollute the Chesapeake Bay.
In assessing Pennsylvania’s milestones toward reaching the 2017 reduction goals, EPA stated in its June 2015 report that Pennsylvania’s agriculture sector fell short. Speaking for farmers, Ebert said that the Environmental Protection Agency says, “We’re the cause.”
PFB has frequently charged that EPA’s models for the Bay’s restoration have not taken into account the numerous voluntary projects farmers have implemented that are reducing runoff. Practices including cover crops, no-till, stream bank fencing, and riparian and grass buffers that have not been funded by government sources, PFB says, have not been included in the models.
PFB says EPA’s models are flawed, and has joined the American Farm Bureau Federation in petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court regarding lower court rulings on EPA’s regulations on the amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment entering the Bay.
A coalition of other agricultural and construction groups have also questioned EPA’s right to establish that total maximum daily load or TMDL, and joined the petition.
Ebert said that the project to better enumerate farmer best management practices that curtail nutrients entering the Bay and other watersheds would be compiled by Penn State which would then report aggregate data. Confidentiality for farmer respondents would be ensured, he said. The survey farmer information would be verified by Penn State or the Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection or the State Conservation Commission.
In an additional legal action, Ebert also said Farm Bureau continues its strong opposition to EPA’s WOTUS rule, “Waters of the United States.” Ebert expressed disappointment that U.S. Senator Bob Casey, D-Pa, voted against the recent cloture vote to eliminate any filibuster. Consequently, the U.S. Senate vote fell only three votes short to move the proposed legislation for a vote by the full Senate. The bill, S. 1140, would force EPA to withdraw WOTUS.
Ebert added that farmers are pleased that enforcement of WOTUS has been temporarily blocked by a federal court. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay against the rule. Ebert noted that WOTUS would significantly expand EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers authority to regulate land and water beyond the Clean Water Act allowances.
Turning to the yet-unpassed Pennsylvania budget, Ebert said PFB was happy with parts of the overall agreement reached between Governor Wolf and the Republican leadership. The proposals increased funding for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, which had suffered cuts in previous years.
The budget is also expected to boost funding for agriculture research and cooperative extension programs of Penn State. Ebert commented that both had also been cut in the past, and that the staff and extension provide up-to-date technology and international information useful to farmers.
Regarding the additional $2 million program on avian flu readiness activities, Ebert noted, “The Governor realizes the threat to Pennsylvania and the economy.” Ebert stressed that avian flu is still a real threat.
Ebert, however, expressed disappointed that in the budget talks, property tax relief does not seem imminent. “Farm families continue to bear the burden,” he concluded.
With respect to possible benefits of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Ebert said, “We’re always interested in fair and equitable trade for export opportunities for growers.”