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Inside EPA's Pollution Diet

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In September, 2009, I wrote that EPA was proposing to clamp down on water runoff from your farm or ranch. It has happened!

EPA will use the Clean Water Act (CWA) to control excess nitrogen and phosphorus runoff (nutrient pollution). EPA believes that agriculture’s excess nitrogen and phosphorus in water bodies, along with sediment, causes harm to aquatic ecosystems and threatens public health. In fact, the agency claims nutrient pollution leads to significant water quality problems such as harmful algal blooms, low oxygen or dead zones in water bodies, and causes declines in wildlife and wildlife habitat.

In 2009, I stated this will be the first time “…that EPA will start developing and setting a numeric number to control runoff from farming and ranching operations.” Such limitations mean that your farming operation will be limited to a specific number of pounds of nutrient material leaving your property!
The CWA requires water quality standards to be established by each state and approved by EPA to protect aquatic ecosystems, provide safe recreation and fishing, and provide for water supplies. Most states have had or do have a narrative nutrient water quality standard which states that nutrient concentrations in a body of water should not create an imbalance.

A nutrient water quality standard is very different. A numeric criteria will state that only measurable levels of nitrogen and phosphorus are allowed into a water body. On November 15, 2010 (published December 6 in the Federal Register), EPA issued a final rule to the state of Florida stating what the state must do to reduce amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus in its waters.

Scary assertion
The Federal Register notice claims, “Excess loading of nitrogen and phosphorus compounds is one of the most prevalent causes of water quality impairment in the United States.” To reach this scary assertion, EPA relies on a 1969 report by the National Academy of Sciences. EPA is specifying the actual milligrams per liter (mg/L) for five geographically distinct watershed regions in Florida.

Technology for agriculture has changed a bit since 1969, and someone might want to tell EPA.

Chuck Bronson, former Florida Agriculture Commissioner, stated in a meeting of the USDA’s Agricultural Air Quality Task Force that if such a rule went into effect, Florida agriculture would be shut down.

EPA’s new final rule of regulation requires 17,000 of Florida’s small farms 15 months from Dec. 6, 2010, to develop best management programs to control nutrient runoff.

EPA declares in the Dec. 6, final rule that “…this rule may result in new or revised NPDES permit conditions for point source dischargers, and requirements for nitrogen-phosphorus pollution treatment controls on other sources ( e.g., agriculture …).”

For agriculture, EPA claims 19% of its land is near incrementally impaired waters. To control nutrient runoff from these farm lands, EPA claims that a cost effective way to reduce nitrogen is to reduce unnecessary fertilizer application. Apparently EPA will decide what is unnecessary.

Any operation applying fertilizer to land will need a nutrient management plan, again presumably approved either by the state or by EPA.

What it will cost you
On page 75,799 of its final rule, EPA lists the potential incremental Best Management Practices (BMPs) costs for each owner and acre of land. For example, if you are in the dairy business in Florida, the new EPA required regulation will cost you $334.40 per acre per year. Typical owner-implemented programs and program costs in the dairy industry will run about $200,000 per year.
If you are in the row crop business in Florida, EPA estimates that your typical per year costs per acre will be $70.40 and a total yearly cost for an owner-implemented program will be $550,000-$690,000. EPA estimates total BMP costs for agriculture in Florida to run between $15-18 million per year.
That’s just Florida. Wait until EPA gets to the Corn Belt.

Several agricultural groups disagree with EPA’s numbers and claim the cost to agriculture will be between $900 million to $1.67 billion per year, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

I will leave it up to you to determine whether you believe EPA is correct with all its agriculture expertise or whether Florida’s Department of Agriculture might better understand the costs of EPA’s numeric nutrient controls listed in EPA’s November 15, 2010, final rule.

Former Florida Commission Bronson’s words need to be heeded. It may not just be Florida agriculture that is run out of business by EPA’s new final CWA regulation limiting nitrogen and phosphorus runoff from your farm or ranch. This rule will be coming to your state.

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