Month: February 2016

Supreme Court Will Not Hear Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint Case

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Great news for the Bay today! The Supreme Court has decided not to hear the Clean Water Blueprint case, brought forward by the American Farm Bureau (AFB) and its allies. The AFB challenged the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) right to enforce the Clean Water Blueprint, which sets Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs; includes limits on pollutants such as nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment) in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The AFB has twice appealed lower court decisions upholding the EPA’s authority to enforce  the Clean Water Blueprint among Bay states and the District of Columbia.

Bay states and the District have created their own Watershed Implementation Plans, setting restoration and milestone goals within their respective boundaries. These plans will continue to be enforced, as the most recent ruling from the lower court stands. The EPA’s authority to oversee Bay restoration under the Clean Water Act has been upheld.

Many of the AFB’s partners in this case came from organizations and states outside of the Bay watershed. While this case does not immediately impact the challengers to the Clean Water Blueprint, it is believed that the EPA’s role in restoring water quality in the Chesapeake Bay could set precedent in other watersheds across the country.

Poultry Litter Management Act Heard in Maryland House and Senate

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The Poultry Litter Management Act, which shifts the burden of storage and transport of poultry manure from contract growers to the chicken industry (companies like Purdue, and Tyson Foods), was heard in the Maryland House and Senate this week. Senate Bill 496 was heard Tuesday afternoon (2/23), and House Bill 599 was heard on Wednesday (2/24).

In addition to shifting the responsibility of manure storage and transport from farmer to the poultry industry, these companies must work with their contract farmers to create nutrient management plans, to determine how much manure may be kept on surrounding agricultural fields as fertilizer. These nutrient management plans are to be completed before a contract grower is provided poultry.

If a farmer has too much manure, the poultry company (referred to as the integrator in the Bills) must ensure the contract grower is able to properly store the manure, until the manure can be transported to an appropriate location. Transport will be paid for by the poultry company, and not by the farmer or by taxpayer dollars (as transport is currently subsidized in part by the state of Maryland).

While the Act will shift burden of responsibility away from individual growers, there has been some backlash from agricultural groups in Maryland. A major complaint is that the Act gives poultry companies expanded powers over independent farmers, and takes away a farmer’s right to sell excess manure as fertilizer. Some fear that taking away the loss of the current cost-share system of poultry transport will create financial losses for contract growers.

Benefits, however, include expected improvements to water quality in the Chesapeake Bay. Over-application of manure in Maryland, and particularly on the Eastern Shore, results in tons of phosphorus runoff polluting local tributaries, and the greater estuary. Ensuring poultry manure transport to areas where fields are not inundated with phosphorus should reduce runoff and pollution issues in Maryland and in the overall watershed.

The Act is set to be implemented in October 2016, dependent on its passing in the House and Senate. While the Bills were heard, the Act has yet to be voted on. Updates to follow.

Challenge to Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint Up For Possible Supreme Court Review

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The case against the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint, which has pitted the American Farm Bureau against the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in a years-long legal battle, may finally be coming to an end. The American Farm Bureau and its partners have twice appealed lower court decisions ruling in favor of the EPA’s authority to implement and enforce Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. The latest appeal, after a July 2015 decision in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of CBF and the EPA, has brought the case to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court will be deciding which cases to take up in its next session this Friday, February 26. The TMDL case could be chosen. If not, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals decision stands. Should the Supreme Court justices decide to review, the recent death of Justice Scalia will likely result in an even split among the remaining justices, again leaving the Third Circuit Court decision standing. Updates to follow.

*For more information on the Bay TMDL, please refer to the “Bay Quick Facts.”



Update to Coal-Ash Drainage in Potomac River

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Last month I shared a post on the drainage of coal-ash into the Potomac River at a Dominion Electric facility. The Possum Point Power Plant in Prince William County stopped burning coal in 2003, but operations left about 215 million gallons of coal-ash on-site in holding ponds. In January, the Virginia State Water Control Board, whose regulations are enforced by the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), approved a permit allowing Dominion Electric to gradually drain water from the coal-ash ponds into Quantico Creek, which drains into the Potomac River.

This month, the Prince William County Board of Supervisors and the Potomac Riverkeepers (who have been monitoring arsenic and selenium levels in Quantico Creek), have banded together to challenge the approval of coal-ash drainage into the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, arguing that federal water laws are being overlooked. The Southern Environmental Law Center will be representing the Potomac Riverkeepers in the appeals process.

Likely to come up in the formal proceedings is the fact that even before the State Water Control Board approved the discharge of coal-ash in last month’s approved permit, Dominion Electric had already released almost 34 million gallons of water from its coal-ash holding ponds into the Creek. While Dominion claims that Virginia DEQ knew about and approved this operation, the Potomac Riverkeepers want to ensure that Dominion’s actions were legal under their former permit.

With the James River Association questioning a similar circumstance at a Dominion Electric facility in Bremo Bluff, Virginia, there is a lot of distrust for Dominion Electric, and disappointment with the DEQ among environmental groups and local municipalities when it comes to protecting water quality in our watershed.

(Source: Bay Journal)



Maryland Introduces Poultry Litter Management Act, Shifting Burden of Manure Removal from Chicken Farmers to Big Ag

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Last year, there was a lot of legislative turmoil surrounding the application of poultry manure on Maryland farmlands. Large-scale production of poultry is prevalent in Maryland, and on the Eastern Shore especially. Poultry manure is usually distributed on adjacent or nearby agricultural fields, which don’t necessarily need the excess fertilizer. Manure, high in phosphorus, therefore runs off into the Chesapeake Bay, contributing to nutrient pollution in the estuary.

While big companies such as Purdue supply many of the chicken farms in Maryland, it has been left to the individual farmers to deal with manure, and any of the associated costs of removal of excess manure. This is about to change. Maryland legislators introduced the Poultry Litter Management Act earlier this week. This Act aims to place the financial burden of excess manure removal in the hands of the big companies, such as Perdue.

According to the Baltimore Sun, poultry farms produce about 228,000 tons of manure per year that must be removed from agricultural lands. With last year’s updates to the Phosphorus Management Tool, further restrictions on amounts of manure that can be applied to fields are being phased in, and will increase the tonnage of excess manure that has to be removed.

Requiring the large companies to pay for removal will help the often financially-struggling chicken farmers, and the Maryland taxpayers that have been contributing to removal costs (as some of these costs are subsidized by the state). While poultry companies collectively rake in about a billion dollars each year, the new Act will only require the industry to spend about four million dollars per year.