Lead by the American Farm Bureau Federation, the agriculture lobby has relentlessly pushed back against new Environmental Protection Agency proposed rules for improving U.S. water quality.
Through their “ditch the rule” campaign the AFBF has spent lavishly on PR, intensely lobbied Congress, mobilized their vast membership, and joined forces with big-time polluters in opposition to the proposed “Waters of the U.S.” rule.
Industrial agriculture enjoys non-point source pollution exemptions from the Clean Water Act. That means farm chemicals can run off fields unabated into lakes and streams. So even as American water gets worse from agriculture pollution, federal regulators are powerless to stop it.
EPA’s new rules are aimed in part to help staunch the flow of pollution. And apparently in their zeal to quash the rule, Farm Bureau officials will say anything to denigrate it.
Like this recent piece, Does EPA know they won the big one? published by theTexas Farm Bureau:
There was a time when our environment was in serious trouble. The EPA went to war against big time polluters. You know what? They won.
I know there’s a big time activist industry that benefits financially from constantly selling an environmental disaster. Still, no serious person would deny we’ve made great strides in cleaning up and protecting the environment.
But it’s not acceptable to continue the fight using all the heavy artillery that was needed four decades ago. The big guns of government are now mostly churning out economy sapping, crippling and punitive regulations that no longer make sense.
This post simply does not pass the smell test. What the Texas Farm Bureau is trying to accomplish is straight from the Richard Berman industrial polluter playbook for sowing issue confusion to make the status quo attractive.
This message is endemic of industrial agriculture’s increasingly untenable position – water quality is getting worse in America, and agriculture is a major culprit.
Meanwhile, voters are trending urban. That means someday ag’s water pollution chickens really will come home to roost. The only question is when urban voters find polluted water untenable and elect lawmakers with a mandate to regulate.
The war against water pollution is far from over. To suggest otherwise is pure fantasy.
So here’s a not definitive list of “Big Ones” confined to just water pollution from agriculture that the EPA has not solved:
Lake Erie/Toledo, Ohio
500,000 residents of a major American city (in a politically important state) lost their access to drinking water for three days. The main cause was agriculture run-off into Lake Erie.
The Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone
Corn Belt fertilizer runoff is the leading cause of hypoxia — lack of oxygen — in the Gulf of Mexico. Hypoxia causes the Gulf’s Dead Zone to swell to the size of New Jersey every summer and kills millions of fish and other aquatic life.
What’s heartbreaking here is that shrimp farmers in Louisiana pay the ultimate price for Corn Belt farmer’s pollution. The industry has estimated to lose between $300-$500 million a year. If the Farm Bureau truly is the Voice of Agriculture, then they should be screaming about the injustice of Corn Belt farmers enjoying simultaneous federal subsides to produce and conserve while shrimpers fend for themselves.
Des Moines, Iowa
Due to run-off pollution from farm fields the manager of Des Moines’ water works has said to his 500,000 customers “it’s not a matter of if, but when” their water is shut off. And they’ve had to raise rates $1 million a year to deal with unregulated agriculture’s problem.
Nitrogen from farm field fertilizers is in “excessive” levels in 41percent of the state’s lakes and streams. 27% of those water bodies are so polluted they cannot be used for drinking water.
According to a FERN investigation, “nearly 10 percent of the 2.6 million people living in the Tulare Lake Basin and Salinas Valley might be drinking nitrate-contaminated water.”
Farm run-off fueled Dead Zones in this celebrated estuary has been a persistent problem. A cleanup plan — challenged by the Farm Bureau – is estimated to yield an additional $22 billion in economic benefits.
The United Sates of America, Earth
Agriculture run-off degrades 125,000 miles of rivers and streams across the country. 40 percent of river stream miles have high levels of phosphorous, and 27 percent have high levels of nitrates.
Photo of EPA diver Mel Parsons at the Tippo Bayou sampling station in the Mississippi Delta near Philipp, MS in August, 2011 from EPA’s flickr stream.