WEEKLY FARM: Cutting pollution will cost billions, USDA says (AP)

greenspun.com : LUSENET : Sustainable Business & Living iForum : One Thread

WEEKLY FARM: Cutting pollution will cost billions, USDA says
Saturday, April 29, 2000
)2000 Associated Press


[Fair Use: For Educational/Research Purposes Only]

(04-29) 09:08 PDT WASHINGTON (AP) -- Cleaning up the nation's lakes and rivers won't come cheap. Getting farmers to cut back on their fertilizer use, a major source of water pollution, could cost taxpayers nearly $3 billion a year, the government says.

The $3 billion represents the annual cost of ``green payments'' to compensate farmers for income losses they would incur in reducing their use of nitrogen fertilizer 20 percent, according to a study being published in May by the Agriculture Department's Economic Research Service.

The study comes as the Clinton administration is taking steps aimed at curbing farm runoff into waterways.

Nitrogen releases from Midwest farms are blamed by government scientists for creating a ``dead zone'' in the Gulf of Mexico as big as New Jersey. A recent White House study concluded the best ways to repair the damage are reducing fertilizer use by 20 percent and restoring 5 million acres of wetlands to trap runoff.

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed rules that would require states to submit plans within 15 years to clean up every waterway that fails to meet water quality standards. The EPA estimates there are more than 20,000 streams and lakes that don't meet water-quality standards, including long sections of the Mississippi and Colorado rivers.

``If they are going to change our practices dramatically ..., there has to be some thought given to what you do to the economic well-being of agriculture,'' said Dick Newpher, executive director of the American Farm Bureau Federation's Washington office. ``That could lead to the need to have some kind of payment authority.''

The Agriculture Department's study considered several ways of getting farmers to reduce their use of fertilizers:

--The green payments, which would compensate growers for the lower crop yields they would get. The payments would have to be worth 2 1/2 times the cost of fertilizer to make it worthwhile for farmers, the study said.

--A 75 percent tax on fertilizer, which would raise an estimated $3.3 billion a year, or regulations limiting fertilizer use. Neither idea is considered politically feasible, given the impact on growers.

--A land-retirement program. Farmers would be paid $1.6 billion a year to take land out of production and to plant strips of grass and trees along waterways to prevent chemicals from running into streams.

Idling land would increase commodity prices more than any of the other options, the study said. That, in turn, would drive up feed costs for livestock producers about 2 percent and raise the cost of food to consumers by 0.7 percent.

``No one policy will satisfy all stakeholders,'' the study said.

The idea of using government subsidies to encourage growers to take conservation measures isn't new.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, has introduced legislation that would set up a system of ``conservation security'' payments to farmers for doing such things as testing their soil to see how much fertilizer they actually need. Farmers who don't do testing sometimes apply too much nitrogen. USDA already has requested $600 million from Congress for such a payment program.

``That concept of having incentives that support stewardship of the land, water and air ... is coming and it's coming fairly soon,'' said Ferd Hoeffner of the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

The White House study said the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico has more than doubled since the 1993 Midwest floods, to 7,728 square miles last summer.

)2000 Associated Press

-- Anonymous, April 29, 2000


Article LINKS for leads mentioned...

Agriculture Department's Economic Research Service (USDA)



Environmental Protection Agency


EPA Takes Action to Improve
Drinking Water Quality

Improved drinking water for 109 million Americans is the objective of a new EPA proposed ground water rule. ...

http:// www.epa.gov/epahome/headline_0413.htm

Water links...

http://www.epa.gov/ ebtpages/water.html

Search EPA on keywords waterways or water quality...

http://www.epa.gov/ search.html

-- Anonymous, April 29, 2000


American Farm Bureau Federation


We've put together an extensive list of Web sites that deal with Biotechnology: government, farm organizations, food/consumer groups, coalitions, universities, international sites, science sites, and more. Check it out.

http://www.fb.com/issues/ biotech/

-- Anonymous, April 29, 2000


...A recent White House study concluded the best ways to repair the damage are reducing fertilizer use by 20 percent and restoring 5 million acres of wetlands to trap runoff. ...

(Note: not sure Im finding links to an old study, or if the infor is contained in the one coming out in May)

THE WHITE HOUSE Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
April 21, 2000

President Clinton and Vice President Gore:
Protecting our Environment and Public Health
A Record of Accomplishment

http://www.pub.whitehouse.gov/uri- res/I2R?urn:pdi://oma.eop.gov.us/2000/4/24/4.text.1


July 14, 1994
Environmental Protection Agency -- Part 1

Accompanying Report of the
National Performance Review

http://www.pub.whitehouse.gov/uri- res/I2R?urn:pdi://oma.eop.gov.us/1994/7/16/13.text.2


August 14, 1999


http://www.pub.whitehouse.gov/uri- res/I2R?urn:pdi://oma.eop.gov.us/1999/8/16/8.text.1

[snip] ...Working with the states and territories, we have identified over 20,000 river segments, lakes and estuaries across America that are polluted. These are river segments, lakes and estuaries that do not meet national water quality standards. These waters include approximately 300,000 miles of rivers and shoreline and almost 5 million acres of lakes. They are polluted mostly by sedimentation, by nutrients and harmful microorganisms.

Clean water is fundamental to our health, the health of our environment and the health of our communities. More than 90 percent of the American population lives within 10 miles of one of these polluted bodies of water. EPA is proposing new water pollution reduction requirements to achieve cleaner waters for the people of this country. For each of the 20,000 polluted water bodies announced in the inventory today, the states will develop site-specific water pollution cleanup plans.

The proposals which we announced today were drawn up in consultation with an advisory committee made up of representatives of state and local governments, business and industry, farmers, sewage treatment plant operators and other concerned groups. Under this proposal the states will set what we call TMDLs, total maximum daily loads. These are numbers which will vary river by river, lake by lake. But these are the numbers that will tell everyone exactly how much pollution reduction is necessary for each of the water bodies listed in the inventory.

The states will work with concerned citizens, they will work with local industry, they will work with local government to craft these local cleanup plans. Recognizing that no two rivers, no two lakes are identical, this is not a one-size-fits-all proposal. Each of the solutions will be tailored to the needs of the individual river, lake or beach. Should a state fail to develop these cleanup plans, EPA will step in to ensure that all Americans, regardless of where they live can enjoy waters that are both fishable and swimmable.


ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: We're happy to answer any questions.

Q One of the things that we hear most about water pollution nowadays is runoff from chicken farms, pig parlors and agricultural fertilizer running into the water. Do these new measures deal with that and how?

ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Absolutely. Probably the greatest water pollution challenge we face today is both urban and agricultural runoff. If you think about the work we have done over the last 27 years to reduce water pollution, much of it has been focused on sewer plants and their discharges, a large, industrial facilities. And we've made a lot of progress because of that focus. Now we have to turn our sights to this polluted runoff.

By developing this inventory of the 20,000 most polluted rivers, lakes and streams, it gives us the direction, the map, in terms of which water bodies will we need specific cleanup plans for. So, for example, in the Chesapeake Bay, a lot of the work will focus on agricultural runoff. In other parts of the country it will focus on perhaps more urban runoff. And in some places it may require even additional reductions in industrial discharges. But the most common problems we see today in terms of ongoing water pollution challenges are associated with polluted runoff, both agricultural and urban.

Q Are there parts of the country that are worse than others?

ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Well, what we do, what we are releasing is a map for every single state that will show the studies that they did, it shows what they think are their most polluted, their most impacted water bodies, and it really shows you where they are going to be focusing their efforts in terms of developing these plans.

Now, remember, for each of these water bodies there will be a specific clean up plan that will look at everything from agricultural runoff to urban runoff to industrial discharges, and then they will make a decision within those categories where you need to get more pollution reductions -- what do you need to do to actually get this specific water body to meet the water quality standards. And the standard is essentially fishable and swimmable. This is the last chapter in how we get to fishable, swimmable waters for the people of this country.

Q You say that if the states don't, the fed will step in. What will you do?

ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Yes. We would write the plans and we would essentially take over the process, we would work with the local communities, with the local businesses, with the local farmers to develop the site specific plans and then to implement those plans.

Q A couple of things. One is, what's the estimated cost of this program and when do we expect to see -- is this a new proposal that's going to be in the Federal Register? When is it going to be in the Register, how long is the --

ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Yes. Today? It takes us four days from when I sign it; so, effectively, next week.

Q And how long is it open for comment?

ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: It's open for comment for 60 days. As I said earlier, we did engage in a very broad dialogue process in terms of formulating the proposal. We had one of these deadly government acronyms, we had a FACA committee, we had a federal advisory committee. What that means is we got real people in the room and we talked about how best to go about doing this.

We would hope to finalize this, obviously, by the end of the year. What this then does is give the states the guidance and the parameters they need to do the work.

Now, some of this work is already underway. We are already working with a number of states who are developing site specific plans. But what this does is it really gives them the real guidance and the direction in terms of what is expected to be in each of those plans, the process. In terms of their reductions for some of the more polluted waterways, we would hope to see final plans in as soon as two to three years and then implementation.

Now, remember, this is different than simply setting a water pollution standard for every industrial pipe that discharges. That's the national standard programs. This goes in and looks at that local water body, looks at the Potomac, looks at the Anacostia and says, what is necessary for the Anacostia, specifically for the Anacostia, what are the steps you need to take now to finish this job and to ultimately make it fishable and swimmable.

Q Estimated cost?

ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: We estimate that in terms of developing the plans and beginning the implementation of plans, something on the order of $1 to $2 million per state. Now, when you complete the process in terms of the plans, the actual pollution reduction costs will vary depending on the choices the community makes. But we did, as I said earlier, include in this a number -- and the Vice President has really been at the forefront of this -- the cost effect of the common sense type solutions that we are increasingly looking to in terms of addressing pollution problems.

So, for example, the acid rain program where we allow emissions credit trading, we're suggesting to the states, use a credit trading program. If you've got four sources of a particular pollutant, you need a 20 percent reduction, maybe you should trade across and maybe one source can make a more cost effective reduction than another source, really allowing each of the plants to look at where is the most cost effective pollution reduction.

Q Currently speaking, obviously it is going to vary from place to place.


Q And sometimes even within an individual state --

ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: The Mississippi, for example, I mean just from pieces of the Mississippi to another piece will vary.

Q What are the costs for business, though? Are they going to bear the brunt of this or is it going to be private citizens?

ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: I think that's very hard to answer because, again, we have provided the states with the flexibility to make site-by-site decisions to determine where the most cost effective solutions -- this is not a one-size-fits-all answer. We have sort of done and gotten what we can from the one-size-fits-all approach to water pollution. That's been all of the technologies to reduce, you know, raw sewage discharge, to reduce industrial toxic discharges. Now we're moving into this final phase which really is site specific. And so, for example, Maryland might make one set of decisions in terms of the Chesapeake Bay and Florida might make another set of decisions in terms of the Everglades. It allows for those different decisions. And in terms of the cost share, that will be up to the individual states to make those decision.

Q What kind of feedback or input have you had from Congress on this?

ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: In the FACA process -- we don't usually have members of Congress on a FACA. Obviously, we keep our appropriators and our committees of jurisdiction involved. This requirement has been in the Clean Water Act for some time, but our focus has been on these more obvious sources of pollution, and it's only as we've been able to address the more obvious sources of water pollution that we've been able to turn our efforts to these -- sometimes much more complex, again because they will require site-by-site, river-by-river answers.

Q Is it correct to say that the current approach has been to regulate pipe-by-pipe and polluter-by-polluter with a standard for each pipe -- and what you're now proposing to do, somewhat like air, is to look at the air and then figure out how much each contributor has to cut and therefore that the existing rules on how much you can emit from a single pipe are going to change?

ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: They may, they may not. Again, it would be up to the state to make that decision. So, for example, you might -- what would be a good example -- in the Great Lakes one of the challenges there will be, for example, some of the industrial sources, they may want to look to greater reductions in industrial sources, but in the Chesapeake Bay it might be more focused on polluted runoff.

So it will depend on the nature of the challenge, of the pollution challenge.

Q I still don't understand. I might run a factory and I might have cleaned up the output to a level that satisfied the EPA last year or five years ago, and then you're going to come along and you're going to look at the river that my pipe goes into and you're going to say, there are six factories here and between you, even if you all meet the existing standard pipe-by-pipe, you're going to have to cut X pollutant by X percent.

ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Yes, that is a possibility. That is correct. And that will be up to the state. The state would make that decision.

Q Could you give an example of what -- in air you can trade sulfur dioxide, you can trade nitrogen oxides. What kind of pollutants would be --

ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Nutrients, for example, you might have 20 different sources of nutrients into the segment of a river that is a subject of a site-specific plan. And so what you would do is you would set a cap, very similar to the air trading programs. You would say the total allowable amount of nutrients in this river to make it healthy is "X," and that represents a hundred ton reduction. And then you would say to all of the discharges of nutrients, you know, which one of you can do it most cost effectively, and if you can't get enough then you can trade against someone who can do it more cost effectively.

There are, just so you know, already model programs allowing for water pollution credit, trading -- we worked, for example, was it in North Carolina, to develop these programs and we're starting to see the real benefits in the same way that we've seen the benefits in air programs.

Obviously, you can't apply them on a national basis because water pollution doesn't perform in the same way that air pollution performs, but you can certainly apply them on regional basis and we think with a great deal of success.

Q Would there be needs for new enforcement mechanisms? People that discharge nutrients, for example, they might not have any kind of permit at all at the moment. And who would set up the enforcement? Would the states enforce?

ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: The states would do that. Again, this is up to the states to decide within a particular river or a particular lake how much more pollution reduction is necessary to meet water quality standards, and then what's the most cost effective way to get those pollution reductions. So it will be up to the state. And they will literally be doing this and we'll be doing it with them site by site.

The good news here is that we've made so much progress in water pollution that we're now down to this site-specific approach. I think that the challenge is working through each of these places, we've got 20,000 places in this inventory that plans are going to be developed for and then implemented to achieve the reductions.

Q So under the Clean Water Act they have authority to tell specific nutrient polluters to stop doing that?


Q Or would they have to pass a state statute that would block them from --

ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Most of the states would have existing authority, some of them might have to make some adjustments in their authority -- but most of the states have essentially picked up the broad authorities in the Federal Clean Water Act and are using them today. And they would be able to use them. Most of them have permitting programs that they would look to. What's important about this proposal is working with the states to develop these site-specific plans. As they develop them they will then move back into using the tools that they have used traditionally.

Q At what point does the federal government step in? I mean, you said if basically the states drop the ball the feds will take over. But is that after the two to three --

ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: This is an interesting question, because we were trying to figure out how to give you guys a simple answer to this today. And you know what, well there isn't because different places will be -- different rivers, different lakes will move into the process at different times.

Q But is there standard in terms of the state, how the state acts? Do you know what I mean? Not necessarily --

ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Yes. I think that the truth of the matter is, in something like this, you know, if you have states who are out there working aggressively, bringing the groups together, writing the plans, publishing the plans, making significant progress, then that would be a situation where we wouldn't come in.

If you had a state who just simply never bothered to do anything, then we would step in.

Any other questions? Thank you.

-- Anonymous, April 29, 2000


Office of the Press Secretary
(Monterey, California)
June 12, 1998


San Carlos Park
Monterey, California

http://www.pub.whitehouse.gov/uri- res/I2R?urn:pdi://oma.eop.gov.us/1998/6/16/7.text.1


Two-thirds of the world's people live within 50 miles of a coast. Too much pollution from the land runs straight to the sea. One large city can spew more than nine million gallons of petroleum products into the ocean every year. That's roughly the amount spilled by the Exxon Valdez. Polluted run-off from watersheds has led to deadly red tides, brown tides, and pfiesteria. Run-off from thousands of miles up the Mississippi River has been so severe that now there is a dead zone the size of the state of New Jersey in the Gulf of Mexico. ...


-- Anonymous, April 29, 2000

Moderation questions? read the FAQ