|Washington, D.C., July 30, 2010 —“Efforts to clean the Bay have been bolstered by important pieces of bi-partisan legislation in both the House and the Senate,” says Jim Baird, American Farmland Trust’s (AFT) Mid-Atlantic States director. The Chesapeake Bay Program Reauthorization & Improvement Act was introduced in the House by Congressmen Holden (D-PA) and Goodlatte (R-VA), and passed out of the Agriculture Committee on unanimous voice vote. “Rep. Holden worked hard to craft legislation that is responsive to the concerns of the agriculture community, recognizes their positive contributions, and helps set reasonable environmental goals for agriculture to strive for.”
The second bill, The Chesapeake Clean Water & Ecosystem Restoration Act of 2009, authored by Senator Cardin (D-MD), was revised with support from Senator Inhofe (R-OK), which enabled it to pass out of committee, also unanimously. “Each bill provides essential tools and resources to improve water quality in the Bay, especially for farmers. The bills share a great deal of common ground and, for the first time in a long while, we have a chance to get a bill passed,” Baird says.
“There is no question that we need to improve water quality in the Bay. To achieve this we must include and maintain well-managed farms whose soils and forest acres improve water quality through filtration,” adds Baird. “The forthcoming Bay-wide TMDL will require deep reductions in nutrients and sediment, and state agencies are working overtime to design effective plans in response. These bills offer the additional tools and resources necessary to be successful. Though they have different emphases, their similarities are striking.”
From the start of the sometimes heated debate over Chesapeake Bay legislation, American Farmland Trust has focused on basic principles to guide thoughtful policies and programs to meet environmental goals while keeping farms economically healthy.
- Solutions must include viable farms AND clean water. It is not one or the other. Farms are, to quote Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the “preferred land use” for the Bay, far better for water quality than sprawling development. Success requires incentive and regulatory programs crafted so that farmers can reduce pollution while remaining profitable, and keep their farmland in agriculture so it does not become parking lots.
- The most effective approaches rely upon voluntary, incentive based programs within an overall regulatory framework. In terms of cost and overall environmental performance, the most effective farm conservation programs are those that clearly define expectations and requirements and then allow farmers to adopt practices that fit their individual and unique operations. Typically, regulatory-only approaches cost the public and farmers more.
- There must be shared responsibility and accountability. Farmers have done a lot to improve water quality, more than they are often given credit for. But additional steps are needed, and farmers, along with all residents and businesses in the watershed, must be responsible and held accountable to take action and make improvements. When this is a common responsibility, we can act together to clean up the Bay.
“Both bills go a long way toward meeting these criteria,” Baird says. “Both sponsors were open to listening and incorporating good ideas throughout the legislative process. Their legislation shares similar language and approaches.” Provisions in both bills would:
- Offer regulatory protection, a “safe harbor,” to farmers who are on track in implementing a conservation plan.
- Reinvigorate the potential for environmental-trading markets (the Senate bill with guarantees for investors, and the House with an impartial oversight commission).
- Mandate a complete, full and accurate accounting of all practices farmers have implemented up to the present, and moving forward.
- Provide funds to implement conservation practices, technical assistance, and research on farms. The Senate bill provides 20 percent of all state implementation grant resources for that purpose.
- Mandate greater collaboration between the EPA and USDA. The House bill increases the USDA’s authority in setting technical standards and developing a nutrient trading program.
“When both parties and houses of Congress converge like this, it’s a sign of a real opportunity. We like what we see in these bills. Farmers can get full credit for their past efforts, a clear direction on the goals they still need to meet, and the assistance and flexibility to do it without going broke,” Baird says. “The fact that they enjoy bipartisan support is a welcome rarity in today’s Congress. If stakeholders and legislators can now come to the same table and work out the details, we believe that we can have legislation that will help all of us reach our common goal of healthy farms and a healthy Bay.”
American Farmland Trust is the nation’s leading conservation organization dedicated to saving America’s farm and ranch land, promoting environmentally sound farming practices and supporting a sustainable future for farms. Since its founding in 1980 by a group of farmers and citizens concerned about the rapid loss of farmland to development, AFT has helped save millions of acres of farmland from development and led the way for the adoption of conservation practices on millions more.
AFT’s national office is located in Washington, DC. Phone: 202-331-7300. For more information, visit www.farmland.org.