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Farm groups appeal Chesapeake Bay cleanup ruling

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Farm groups said Tuesday that they were appealing a judge’s decision to uphold federal pollution limits that are designed to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay, the nation’s largest estuary, by more tightly regulating wastewater treatment, construction and agricultural runoff.

The American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Corn Growers Association said they each had filed a notice to appeal the September decision to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.

In her decision, U.S. District Court Judge Sylvia Rambo in Harrisburg had deemed the plan to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay to be the largest and most complex of more than 47,000 such plans completed thus far throughout the United States.

Maryland, the District of Columbia, and five other states — Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, agreed to the pollution limits, but Farm Bureau president Bob Stallman called the limits “a remarkable power grab” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that usurped state authority over setting land use policy and deciding how to improve water quality.

“This is a wrongly decided case that has dangerous implications for farmers and many others in the Chesapeake Bay area and nationwide,” Stallman said.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation president William Baker said he is confident that Rambo’s decision will be upheld.

“It is disappointing that so much effort has to be spent in the courts versus on cleaning up the bay and its rivers and streams,” Baker said.

Farm runoff, such as animal waste and fertilizer that get into streams and rivers from watering or rainfall, is the single largest source of pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay, according to the EPA.

In her 99-page decision, Rambo ruled that the EPA was within its authority to work with the six states and Washington, D.C., to set and enforce standards to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment that drain from rivers into the bay and harm the ecology of the nation’s largest estuary.

She also rejected arguments that the EPA overstepped its bounds under the Clean Water Act, created an unfair process and used standards that were flawed or unlawfully complicated.

The agreement did not violate the Clean Water Act because the EPA and the states all agreed to it and states were given the flexibility to decide how to meet the limits, Rambo wrote.

State-federal efforts to improve the Chesapeake Bay water quality stretch back 30 years to 1983, when the governors of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania, the mayor of Washington and the head of the EPA signed the first Chesapeake Bay Agreement.

After years of missing deadlines, the EPA and six states and Washington agreed in 2007 to establish a pollution-reduction program by 2011 and to reach the targeted limits by 2025.

The National Association of Home Builders also had challenged the Chesapeake Bay plan.