New York Members of Congress Challenge EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Rules

Published January 3, 2011

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s imposition of new restrictions on nutrient and sediment runoff into the Chesapeake Bay watershed is causing a storm of protest among New York’s primarily Democratic Congressional delegation.

New York Senators Charles Schumer (D) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D), along with Democratic Representatives Michael Arcuri (D), Maurice Hinchey (D), Christopher Lee (R), Daniel Maffei (D), Scott Murphy (D), Bill Owens (D), and Paul Tonko (D), sent a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson protesting the agency’s draft Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), which would set new limits on nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment runoff into the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Economy in Jeopardy
“We write today to share our grave concerns with the draft Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) allocations that were recently issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),” wrote the Congress members.

“We are all strongly committed to the goal of restoring and ensuring the long-term health of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem,” the letter continued. “The Bay and its tributaries are national treasures that are suffering from desperately poor conditions and in need of significant restoration and protection. However, we believe that the draft TMDL allocations released by EPA will not achieve the goal of cleaning up the Bay because they place unattainable pollution reductions on New York and other headwater states, according to state and local officials. In addition, the drastic reductions that would be required to attain these draft allocations, if finalized, will jeopardize the economic well-being of communities within New York’s Bay Watershed and the agricultural industry on which the entire state relies.”

The Congressmen also stated EPA’s TMDL would impose an unfair burden on New York, which is far upstream from the Chesapeake Bay. Instead, the Congressmen argued, states that border the Bay and thus receive the greatest environmental benefit from nutrient and sediment restrictions should shoulder a greater share of the restrictions.

Costly New Regulations
The draft TMDL would impose new and costly federal regulations on approximately 19 New York counties, 650,000 New York residents, and 2,000 New York family farms within the Susquehanna River portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed area. New York officials say the project could cost the state as much as $250 million over the next 15 years, and still may not accomplish EPA’s water quality goals.

“The bottom line is there is a way to clean up the Chesapeake and protect our economy, but the EPA’s new proposal isn’t it,” said Schumer in an October 13 press statement. “It would unfairly penalize small business owners, family farmers, and local governments who would pass the cost on to taxpayers. Protecting New York’s water quality and the Chesapeake Bay is important, but should not be done at the expense of local communities. In tough economic times like these we need to do everything we can to create jobs, not drive them away. The EPA needs to go back to the drawing board and come up with a proposal that strikes the right balance.”

“The draft EPA regulations will harm local New York economies and our critical agriculture sector,” said Lee in the October 13 press statement. “I share my colleagues’ commitment to protecting the Chesapeake Bay and echo their concerns with the EPA’s policy, which New York State and local officials both say is not feasible.”

Punished for Progress
New York’s Congressional delegation argued strongly EPA did not adequately take into consideration the state’s prior reductions in nutrient and sediment runoff.

“If the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed had the same water quality that the New York portion of the watershed currently has, the Bay would not be impaired. But rather than using New York’s past successes—especially those with farmers to voluntarily adopt prescribed grazing, precision feeding and nutrient management plans—EPA’s TMDL seeks to require additional, unattainable reductions that would be punitive to New York’s farmers, taxpayers and communities,” wrote Arcuri in the October 13 press statement.

Environmental Overreach
EPA’s costly new restrictions are just one more example of the Obama administration’s executive overreach, says H. Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow for environment policy at the National Center for Policy Analysis.

“The administration seems to have a ‘damn the consequences, full speed ahead,’ attitude when it comes to environmental regulations,” regardless of the economic costs, said Burnett.

Burnett noted “the Obama administration habitually takes the side of stricter rules supported by the environmental lobby” even when they are opposed by state governments and consumer groups. “Whether it’s greenhouse gas regulations, revisions of the ozone standards and clean air permitting decisions, endangered species listings and delistings, offshore oil and gas production, or clean water regulations concerning total maximum daily loads, in every instance the Obama administration pays off the environmental lobby at the expense of sound science and the economy,” said Burnett.

“While the President says job creation and getting the economy back on track is job one, his actions say just the opposite. Each of these regulations and increased standards are job killers with little or no demonstrable environmental or public health benefit. Rarely has an administration been so dedicated to environmental activist orthodoxy even when it flies in the face of state needs and economic progress,” Burnett explained.

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Texas.