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Farm Bureau takes aim at EPA limits on pollutant runoff into Chesapeake Bay

The Chesapeake Bay is the nation's largest estuary. A 2003 report by the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Blue Ribbon Finance Panel chronicled its decline from overfishing and pollution and pointed to the drop in oyster harvests in Virginia. In 1984, watermen captured 4 million pounds of the crustacean. In 2003, they harvested only 77,000. There were 200 shucking houses in the mid-1980s. In 2003 there were 20.

Taxpayers and businesses in Virginia and Maryland will pay up to $20 billion over the next 15 years to implement the EPA's pollution diet, formally known as the Total Maximum Daily Load of sediment, nitrogen and phosphorous being washed into the bay.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said he supports the Farm Bureau's effort to halt the EPA limits partly because of the cost. Goodlatte, who drafted House legislation to strip the effort of funds, called the EPA's actions "overzealous" and said they were taken "without a cost-benefit analysis to determine the overall cost of these mandates or even whether or not they will benefit the bay." Goodlatte said the states in the Chesapeake Bay region "know better how to manage a state's water quality goals than the bureaucrats at the EPA."

But W. Tayloe Murphy Jr., a former member of the Virginia House of Delegates and a former state secretary of natural resources, said the need for EPA action was clear decades ago.

"I've lived in the bay region for 78 years, and I have watched a thriving industry for fish and crabs die because of our failure to keep the habitat clean," Murphy said. "We've ignored the problem for 30 years, and now we're paying the price. If you don't have some type of leadership of the [cleanup] program, things just don't get done."

In a statement, Virginia's current natural resources secretary, Doug Domenech, declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying he has not read it. But his frustrations with the EPA's pollution diet, as well as Republican Gov. Robert F. McDonnell's, align with the Farm Bureau's arguments.

"We understand the frustration of the states working with EPA on this," Domenech said. "Governor McDonnell has expressed concerns with the timing, legality, costs, and questionable science associated with EPA's implementation" of the bay cleanup plan.

Bob Summers, acting secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment, said the state set its own clean-water standard.

"Maryland is implementing its own plan, as are other states," Summers said. "I think, clearly, EPA has given us our assignment, and they have said we can achieve that goal by any combination of things that we want. We just have to achieve the goal."

Without the EPA, the cleanup of the bay's waters would lack cohesiveness, Summers said.

"Maryland cannot restore the bay on its own," he said. "It only controls a small part of the watershed. We need other states to do their jobs as well."

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