FREDERICK | Officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency met with members of Maryland’s agriculture community Thursday in a renewed push to develop a Chesapeake Bay restoration strategy ordered by President Obama.
Chuck Fox, senior EPA adviser on the Chesapeake Bay, said that while agriculture has made strides in reducing runoff and that lawns and other turf now account for more acreage than corn in the Bay watershed, agriculture still accounts for nearly half of nutrients such as fertilizer that enter the Bay.
He said the federal agency was considering how to make further reductions in farm runoff through better nutrient management plans and increased use of buffer zones around farm fields and cover crops, which are planted between plantings of regular crops to absorb excess fertilizer.
The meeting followed a town-hall session Tuesday in Annapolis and the unveiling of a Web site to provide updates and allow public comment in developing a strategy to curb pollutants entering the Bay.
Mr. Obama’s order, which requires federal agencies to submit draft reports by Sept. 9, follows years of efforts to improve the Bay. Those efforts, however, have not stopped the decline of blue crabs and oysters or eliminated low-oxygen dead zones, but they have led to plans by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and other groups to sue EPA to enforce the Clean Water Act.
Mr. Fox said the draft report to be delivered Sept. 9 will contain “pretty bold ideas” and a “fair amount of new activity from all sectors of our society” that are likely to include stringent new standards for urban and suburban development and redevelopment. He said they also could include regulations on lawn fertilizers.
Bill Satterfield of Delmarva Poultry asked Mr. Fox whether EPA’s calculations included runoff from residential lawns, and Wilmer Stoneman of the Virginia Farm Bureau said after the meeting that suburban Fairfax County in his state had the highest fertilizer sales in the state, mostly for lawn care.
All of the practices are designed to reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous from fertilizers, manure, detergents and other sources that enter the Bay. Once there, they can spur algae blooms that rob Bay water of oxygen and create dead zones.
In Annapolis, Mr. Fox said urban and suburban runoff is the only pollution source that is growing while controls on sewage plants, farms and other sources are having an effect. However, agriculture is where the most-effective cost controls can be implemented, he said.
Mr. Fox and others repeatedly called for more accountability in the process, and many at the Annapolis meeting called for an end to the voluntary nature of cleanup efforts.
Mr. Fox said increased accountability could involve tougher permitting for sewage plants, developments and farms that have “real consequences for not complying with the law.” Those consequences could include fines, civil penalties, and stop-work orders for developments, he said.
Mr. Obama’s executive order puts the federal government at the head of efforts previously led by the states, establishing a Federal Leadership Committee, led by the EPA to oversee restoration programs and orders the EPA to research its authority under the Clean Water Act to restore the Bay.
Meanwhile, lawmakers in Congress are working on a reauthorization bill for the Chesapeake Bay Program, the joint state-federal program that has led Bay restoration efforts.