December 5, 2009

A Christmas "Wish List" for the Chesapeake Bay

If only the Chesapeake Bay could climb up onto Santa's lap.

On the top of the Bay's wish list would be the Chesapeake Clean Water and Ecosystem Restoration Act, recently introduced in Congress. It would create legally-binding pollution reduction mandates for Bay area states through a nutrient pollution trading program that would provide as much as $300 million a year to farmers who meet basic standards for reducing fertilizer runoff. Then there's the other stuff that runs off chicken and dairy farms.

But the Virginia Farm Bureau is the latest Scrooge opposing this bill, afraid that the regulations will be too expensive and put farmers out of business. Now I'm all for the farmers, but there is some accountability here. Agriculture is responsible for about half of the nitrogen and phosphorus in the Bay.

Earlier Scrooges were the American Farm Bureau, the National Chicken Council, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the Fertilizer Institute, and the Virginia Agribusiness Council.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (the Chesapeake's godmother who is watching out for her health and welfare) claims that the bill was carefully designed to do the opposite:
The "World Resources Institute, a think tank that specializes in market-based environmental programs, concludes that the bill would potentially double the amount of federal money available to farmers to pay for environmentally-friendly practices, such as planting trees along streams and building fences to keep cattle out of creeks. That would not only reduce runoff pollution into the Bay, but it would also create jobs and bolster the agricultural economy. . . Moreover, the bill would provide at least $96 million for technical assistance to farmers, and another $75 million in a grant program to fund pollution reduction strategies. There will also be opportunties for more in future federal Farm Bills (on top of the big increases that farmers received in the 2008 Farm Bill).