WASHINGTON – Farmers and environmentalists have long been at odds over pollution in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, but Harford County farmer Ned Sayre came to Capitol Hill Thursday in support of legislation to fund water restoration in the bay.
The agricultural community has often been unfairly blamed for nitrogen loading into the bay, said Sayre, a livestock farmer from Deer Creek, a Chesapeake Bay tributary, but he sees the legislation as a cooperative effort between the two groups.
“We have not always seen eye to eye with the environmental groups,” said Sayre, but he believes the effort will win broader national support.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen Jr., D-Kensington, and Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, along with two Virginia congressmen, introduced a bill to fund water quality restoration in the Chesapeake Bay through changes to the Farm Bill.
The bill would amend the conservation and energy section of the 2002 Farm Bill, which is up for reauthorization this year, and seek about $200 million for Chesapeake Bay water restoration programs. It would also require participation from Chesapeake Bay watershed farms to implement practices to reduce pollution in wetlands.
“While we’ve made progress, the bay remains severely threatened,” Van Hollen said at a Capitol Hill news conference Thursday. “The farmers are the stewards of our land . . . we have to help them do it.”
“This bill recognizes how agriculture can help restore the health of the bay,” said Gilchrest in a later interview, pointing out that conversation has already begun between the environmentalists and farmers.
The main source of pollution around the bay is the agricultural runoff from fertilizer and animal waste.
“It could be contentious . . . what’s good for the grain farmer isn’t necessarily the same for the livestock farmers who use that grain,” said Sayre, but he said many of the programs are voluntary, and the added money will encourage more farmers in the area to get involved with them.
“When environment and agriculture work together, clean water can be the result,” said Chesapeake Bay Foundation President Will Baker.
But the way the bill is currently structured doesn’t give the bay its fair share, Van Hollen said.
About $66 million a year from various sources are devoted to bay upkeep, he said, which falls far short of the amount needed to meet environmental goals, including reducing nitrogen pollution by 2010.
“Many of our farms in Maryland are representative of East Coast farms,” and raise products like hogs, poultry, grain, nurseries and dairy, said Gilchrest, who recently held a series of meetings in several farms around his 1st District. “We want the Farm Bill to recognize the importance of locally grown agricultural products.”
“The Farm Bill, in general, favors mega farms,” said Gilchrest. “It’s hard in this day and age for small farmers to compete with somebody (with a 10,000-acre farm).”
While the bill may face opposition from others seeking money from the Farm Bill, Van Hollen said that leaders from the bay watershed states must unite in support of the bill in order to support the reauthorization of the Farm Bill.
The states that are part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed are Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, New York, Delaware and West Virginia. Washington, D.C., is also part of the watershed.
“We want to make sure the Chesapeake Bay is a national priority. It is a national treasure,” Van Hollen said.
The bill is also supported by Maryland Reps. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville; Al Wynn, D-Mitchellville; C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, D-Cockeysville; John Sarbanes, D-Towson; Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore; and co-sponsored by Virginia representatives Tom Davis, R-Va, and Bobby Scott, D-Va.