NORMAN — The cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay has posed an extraordinary challenge. It has taken decades of effort, cost billions of dollars and required shared sacrifice from setting aside shoreline “buffer” strips to banning phosphate detergents. Now comes word that the fight will not only be against pollution but also against nearly half the country, too.
That’s because the attorneys general from 21 states have joined a lawsuit brought by the American Farm Bureau Federation that seeks to toss out the so-called “pollution diet” or “Total Maximum Daily Load,” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-led effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. The 4-year-old campaign has already had a positive impact on the estuary and has raised hopes that real progress is at hand.
We have railed against the Farm Bureau’s legal maneuverings before. Theirs is a misguided and selfish effort to protect farmers against water pollution controls — new standards that might, for instance, hold large poultry companies liable for the harmful runoff that can be traced to the millions of pounds of chicken manure spread on farm fields.
Such accountability is only possible if the EPA has the ability to enforce Clean Water Act standards on states, which nevertheless retain the flexibility to decide how they will achieve specific water quality goals. It is a partnership that protects the broad public interest — making sure the Chesapeake Bay watershed’s six states and the District of Columbia are doing their fair share.
It is shocking, however, to see so many attorneys general attack that effort in what amounts to a declaration of environmental war. How else to describe the decision by the attorneys general of Alabama, Texas, South Carolina and the rest to endorse a lawsuit that, if successful, would so threaten the future of the nation’s largest estuary?