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Agreement aims at reducing animal waste into Chesapeake Bay

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STEVE SZKOTAK, Associated Press

 

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Environmental Protection Agency announced an agreement Wednesday to ensure that dairy farms, poultry growers and other farm animal operations are on track to reduce pollution flowing into the bay.

The foundation said the agreement is intended to ensure that the multi-state, EPA-led restoration of the Chesapeake Bay is achieved by 2025.

The multi-part plan is aimed at ensuring compliance with measures that limit manure and other pollutants from entering streams that ultimately feed into the bay. They include fencing off streams to keep cattle from fouling their waters and management plans for feeding operations and manure.

To ensure the bay's so-called pollution diet is followed, the agreement calls for inspections to ensure animal feed operations are heeding anti-pollution rules, a review of permits for large animal operations to make sure they're doing the job and adjustments to plans if necessary.

"We believe that well-managed farms are one of the best ways to protect water quality," said Kim Coble, the foundation's vice president for environmental protection and restoration. "Working with the USDA and the states, EPA's on-farm inspections and increased oversight of state regulations will bring us closer to protecting water quality in local rivers, streams and the Chesapeake Bay."

Agriculture is the largest source of pollution to rivers and streams that feed the bay, according to the foundation.

The announcement was met with disappointment by some environmental groups, including The Pew Charitable Trust.

"Pew is extremely disappointed that instead of strengthening national rules to protect all of our waterways from livestock waste, the EPA is conducting more assessments," said Seth Horstmeyer, who directs the group's efforts to reform industrial agriculture.

Environment America expressed similar sentiments, contending the EPA was "balking" at setting tough new standards to protect the bay from factory farm pollution.

In a statement, the EPA said it is not proposing revisions to regulations governing large-scale farms.

Instead, the EPA said, it will work with states and farmers "to continue the significant progress made since 2010 in approaches and actions to reduce water pollution from animal agriculture."

"This alternative approach will more quickly and comprehensively address environmental issues posed by animal agriculture in the Chesapeake Bay watershed," the statement said.

The bay's restoration involves six states and the District of Columbia within the with the 64,000-square-mile watershed. The states are Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York.

The federally directed clean-up plan, put in place after years of neglect by the states, is intended to limit pollution from urban landscapes, sewage plants and other sources. The pollution has given rise to oxygen-robbing algae blooms and sediment, which can cloud water and bury underwater grasses, oysters and other species.

The bay's pollution has created vast "dead zones" and decimated blue crab and oyster stocks.

The agreement announced Wednesday stems from the settlement of the foundation's 2010 lawsuit to compel the states to reduce pollution. Since the settlement, however, the EPA has been challenged for imposing new regulations, including court challenges from state and national farm lobbies.

Coble said the agreement should not require a protracted rule-making process and can be implemented under EPA's existing authority.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press