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Chesapeake Bay Landsat photo
Satellite picture of Chesapeake Bay (center) and Delaware Bay (upper right) - and Atlantic coast of the central-eastern United States.
Maryland's main natural resource is The Chesapeake Bay. About 200 miles long, the water increases in salinity as it goes from the Susquehanna River to the Atlantic Ocean. Back in colonial times, there were enough bivalves to filter the total volume of water in about a week and oyster reefs were so large they often caused shipping problems. The blue crab and rockfish, a regional name for striped bass, are other popular fisheries in the bay.

Over the years, due to overharvesting, pollution, daming waterways and lack of planning, oysters are now at 1% of their historical population levels, rockfish had a near brush with extinction, and blue crabs populations can vary greatly year to year. There is also a sizeable deadzone that crops up year after year due to pollution runoff, further hindering recovery efforts.

Aside from putting into place catch limits, Maryland has been trying to put into place pollution controls. In 2004, Gov. Ehrlich (R) lobbied for and got the "Bay Restoration Fund" derisively known as the "Flush Tax" to upgrade the state's 67 wastewater treatment plants, 35 have been upgraded with others in various stages of completion. Once complete, the upgrades are expected to reduce ~7.5 million pounds of nitrogen/year and ~0.22 million pounds of phosphorus/year below the year 2000 levels.

So what does this have to do with the Farm Bureau and Attorney Generals from 21 other states? They are fearful of the next steps that Maryland and the EPA are undertaking to rehabilitate The Chesapeake Bay.

“The issue is whether EPA can reach beyond the plain language of the Clean Water Act and micromanage how states meet federal water-quality standards,” Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said. “We think the clear answer is ‘no,’ and we would prefer to get that answer while the question surrounds land use in the Chesapeake Bay instead of waiting for EPA to do the same thing along the Mississippi River basin.”
The case in which Kansas filed its amicus brief this week is American Farm Bureau Federation, et al., v. United States Environmental Protection Agency, Case No. 13-4079. Kansas is supporting the plaintiff, American Farm Bureau Federation.

States joining the Kansas-led brief are: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming.

The programs that have conservatives and the American Farm Bureau in a tizzy for The Chesapeake Bay are:
1) An interstate compact for The Chesapeake Bay - this agreement, started in 1983, has states in The Chesapeake Bay's watershed sets goals and coordination to reduce pollution. The EPA, thanks to an executive order, is now heading and controlling the implementation of the program.
2) A Stormwater Management Fee, aka "Rain Tax" for Maryland's 10 largest jurisdictions to raise money to fund restoration efforts and pollution controls. This state law, along with other state and EPA efforts like the flush tax, is part of that "land use" Schmidt was referring to.  

What concerns Agribusiness and the other suing states is if restoration efforts are successful, they can be implemented on the nation's largest watershed, The Mississippi River's watershed.

The Mississippi River watershed is the fourth largest in the world, extending from the Allegheny Mountains in the east to the Rocky Mountains in the west. The watershed includes all or parts of 31 states and 2 Canadian Provinces. The watershed measures approximately 1.2 million square miles, covering about 40% of the lower 48 states.
Currently, the Gulf of Mexico's dead zone, off the coast of Louisiana and Texas, is the largest in the United States. The Mississippi River dumps the same high-nutrient runoff that is carried into The Chesapeake Bay, from untreated sewage to agricultural runoff. It wouldn't be too difficult to scale up the program currently underway to those in the Mississippi's. And that is exactly what Kansas AG is afraid of:
In a press release about his amicus (or "friend of the court") brief, Schmidt explained that he’s afraid that EPA will “do the same thing along the Mississippi River basin.” In other words, he is afraid the federally-mandated cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay will become a model for waterways across the nation. What they fear is that states will be held accountable for controlling the total amount of runoff pollution from farms and urban areas that they allow into their own streams and rivers.
Read on to learn how the issue came to be in Maryland and the current stakes.

Back in 1983, the EPA entered into an agreement with the Mayor of DC and the Governors of Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland for the "Chesapeake Bay Agreement" which among other things allows the group to:

assess and oversee the implementation of coordinated plans to improve and protect the water quality and living resources of the Chesapeake Bay estuarine systems.
In 1987, the group established goals to reduce nutrients, mainly nitrogen and phosphorus, by 40% by 2000. By 2000, some progress was made on that front, and the compact was expanded to include Delaware, New York and West Virginia (The Chesapeake Bay's watershed extends partly into those states as well). The 2000 agreement also established a "Total Maximum Daily Load" (TMDL) for a variety of pollutants.

Over time though, states slacked off on implementing TMDLs and upgrades in treatment systems. In May 2009, President Obama issued an executive order, putting more Federal/EPA control over the process and implementation of achieving the goals in the agreement. The EPA has a great PDF poster explaining how it is now overseeing and coordinating the process.

Currently, the EPA is reviewing the second phase of "Watershed Implementation Plans" from the states under the compact.

Thanks to previous and ongoing efforts, most sources of pollution in Maryland are dropping. Polluted runoff from city and suburban landscapes is the only major type of water pollution that is increasing in the region. In 2012, legislators passed the "Stormwater Management Fee", known as the "Rain Tax" by detractors. The same way the "Flush Tax" went to upgrade sewage systems, funds from the "Rain Tax" go to limiting pollution coming from roads, paved surfaces and rooftops.

18 jurisdictions in Virginia, eight local governments in West Virginia, two municipalities in Delaware (including the largest, Wilmington), and several in Pennsylvania already have stormwater fee systems in place—and these numbers are growing. Nationwide, more than 1,400 jurisdictions—including large cities like Houston and Tampa—have similar policies in place—and they are working. Maryland's Prince George's County has assessed a tax for polluted runoff since 1986. Bowie has charged commercial properties a fee to address polluted runoff since 1988. A number of other areas implemented similar fees in the 1990s and 2000s.

Despite this, there's still plenty of opposition to the fee statewide, especially among conservatives. Republicans running for Governor have made its repeal a highlight of their campaigns, especially after the Democratic leaders in Annapolis pledged not to repeal it. The The Clean Water, Healthy Families coalition and other groups are fighting Republican efforts and spin though with educational campaigns and a catchy tune -"Keep the weed killer out of my crabcakes".

Keep the weed killer out of my crab cakes

Motor oil out of my rockfish

Fertilizer out of my flounder

That'd make a hideous dish

So hey Maryland lawmakers,

Don't gut the Polluted Runoff law

'Cause nobody wants dog poop and fertilizer

With their crab cakes, beer and slaw

Keep the weed killer out of my crab cakes... (repeat and fade out)

The ad is running on the DC and Baltimore radio markets.

These initial steps have been working and that's what Agribusiness fears. They fought hard against Maryland's efforts to ban arsenic from chicken feed, a practice already prohibited by Canada and the European Union. Now Maryland chickens, most of which come from Perdue farms, are arsenic free! Another plus, the runoff from chicken farms, and farms that use chicken manure, doesn't contain arsenic.

Please join The Chesapeake Bay Foundation in telling in saying "Don't tell us how to restore clean water in our backyard!"

4:56 PM PT: Thanks for the Community Spotlight listing!

Another point to consider: Until the early/mid-20th, Maryland used to support ~9,000 watermen, people who made a living off the bounty of The Chesapeake Bay. Their current numbers are a shadow of the past as the fisheries collapsed. Blue crabs and rockfish populations have gotten better, but are still abysmal. Oysters.. hell, restoration of that keystone species would do wonders.

Anyrate, given a chance, nature can mend itself. The Chesapeake Bay is already a dominant economic driver in the state, as I'd wager the deltas in Louisiana and Mississippi are. How cool would it be for either estuary to be restored to even half their former glory? The economic boon from fishers, packagers, chefs and cultural influence would be even more prominent.

All nature asks is that you clean up your own mess.

Sun Feb 09, 2014 at 9:15 AM PT: The Miami Herald picked up on the story and notes how offensive the lawsuit is and the economic impacts poor water qulaity has had in Florida  -

"Here in Florida, Bondi and Scott didn’t hold a press conference to announce they were joining the Chesapeake litigation. In fact, they’d be much happier if nobody knew about it except the special interests for whom they’re pimping.

Imagine the widespread anger down here if the state of Maryland or Pennsylvania sued to halt Everglades restoration. That’s how people up there feel about what we’re doing to them.

There’s a perverse irony in the fact that the Scott administration is spending public dollars to defend polluters up North while our own most precious waterways are being poisoned.

Fertilizer runoff from lawns and other pollution has killed thousands of acres of sea grass in the Indian River Lagoon, and it’s the prime suspect in a steep rise in deaths of manatees and bottle-nosed dolphins.

The rapid decline in water quality poses a serious threat to the marine-based economy of the Treasure Coast, affecting everything from boat sales to riverfront real estate. Residents have protested, organized and begged for help from Scott and the Legislature.

In the meantime, speaking for all other Floridians, I’d like to apologize to the concerned citizens of Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, West Virginia, Delaware and Washington, D.C.

We had nothing to do with this ridiculous lawsuit. We know first-hand the terrible impact of water pollution, and we truly want your Chesapeake Bay to be clean.

Pay no attention to our clueless governor and attorney general. We try not to."

Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 8:18 AM PT: From The Baltimore Sun's Editorial Board - The pro-pollution AGs  -

"Why interfere with an environmental campaign that is working — and in a cooperative manner at that? Simply put, it's because they fear the EPA will use the successful Chesapeake Bay program as a model for cleaning up other badly-polluted bodies of water from the Mississippi River to the Great Lakes.

But it's also likely because there are parts of this country where it's become politically advantageous to be against whatever the Obama administration's EPA is for. The Republican Party has so vilified the federal agency that it is simply assumed that every regulation it promulgates is anti-jobs, anti-free market and anti-American — as if countries with lax environmental regulations such as China and Russia posed an opportunity for anything other than cancer clusters.

Even so, let's all be embarrassed for West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who is one of the rogue attorneys general despite his state's past commitments to the Chesapeake Bay cleanup. Clearly, Mr. Morrisey ought to spend a bit more time safeguarding his own drinking water supply in the wake of the devastating chemical spill in Charleston last month and less on undermining efforts to reduce water pollution in neighboring states."

Originally posted to Maryland Kos on Thu Feb 06, 2014 at 01:04 PM PST.

Also republished by Kansas & Missouri Kossacks and Community Spotlight.

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