Current environmental situations and legal battles may have far-reaching implications for livestock and poultry producers across the United States. A panel of leading agricultural industry lawyers told attendees at the recent Food Agriculture & Biofuels Conference that it is time to focus on current events even if they seem far from their back yards. The conference was sponsored by the Faegre & Benson law firm and held in Minneapolis, MN.

One situation that should claim producer attention is a 2009 executive order, signed by President Obama, aimed at improving the health of the Chesapeake Bay, explains Tim Jones, senior counsel for Tyson Foods, Springdale, AR. The order set up a federal leadership committee, chaired by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), requiring the Departments of Agriculture, Interior, Defense and Commerce to oversee monitoring studies to improve the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The watershed drains part of New York, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, DC.

“All of these entities came together with a shared mission of protecting the Bay,” Jones says. “As these groups work toward implementation of their mission, there is a lot of talk about agriculture and confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.”

Jones says EPA is working on a federal total maximum daily load (TMDL) for the Chesapeake Bay watershed, which covers more than 64,000 square miles. According to EPA, a TMDL represents the maximum amount of a pollutant that the Chesapeake Bay may receive and still maintain water quality standards. The TMDL is made up of “wasteloads” listed from point sources, including large animal feeding operations and non-point sources, such as polluted rainfall runoff from agricultural lands. The TMDL, which is supposed to be determined by the end of 2010, is being developed pursuant to a settlement agreement with environmental groups that claimed EPA was not adequately protecting the Chesapeake Bay. EPA is also working to develop new rules for animal agriculture in the Chesapeake Bay watershed by the end of the year, with the goal of having the rules finalized by 2014.

Jones has a number of questions and concerns related to the TMDL process in the Chesapeake Bay. “Is EPA using the best science available? Are they going to use the data in appropriate ways? Is the economic impact of what EPA is going to do being addressed and analyzed? Computer models are being used extensively. Are those models right? Are they going to unfairly target animal agriculture?” he asks.

“The reason we need to watch both the TMDL and what is going on in the Chesapeake Bay is because EPA has clearly signaled us that this may be coming to a watershed near you. If it is successful, it could be applied to the Mississippi Basin, for example,” Jones says. “EPA has said they are using the Chesapeake Bay as a test case. Somebody has to make sure the law is followed in EPA’s zeal to make these environmental gains.”

Learn more about the Chesapeake Bay TMDL project at the EPA website at www.epa.gov/region3/chesapeake/.