Karen Steuer directs the Pew Environment Group's efforts to reform industrial animal agriculture.
An editorial by The Frederick News-Post ("Cost of the bay," Sept. 7) raised a good point regarding the need for all neighboring states to share the responsibility of controlling pollutants entering the Chesapeake Bay. The Pew Environment Group agrees that the region, as a whole, has contributed to the bay's degradation and should participate in its restoration. However, sharing the responsibility of the cleanup effort should apply not only to state and local governments. Major private-sector polluters -- including industrial agriculture operations around Maryland -- must do their part as well.
Federal agency studies, state water quality assessments, and reports of pollution incidents all point to significant and growing threats to water resources from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). According to the U.S. Geological Survey, livestock manure is the single largest source of nitrogen pollution in major rivers across the country. These operations are responsible for about 25 percent of the bay's nutrient pollution, and each state in the region needs to ensure that industry shares in the cleanup.
Some states in the Chesapeake watershed are moving in the right direction. Maryland recently adopted a new rule to help mitigate nutrient-related pollution largely from its broiler chicken industry. Similarly, Delaware has been working toward improved management of the manure from its broiler farms. But if these efforts are not matched by states such as Pennsylvania, whose Susquehanna River accounts for 40 percent of the water flowing into the bay and where more than 130 million broilers generate almost 700,000 tons of manure annually, the Chesapeake will continue to suffer. CAFO pollution does not stop at state lines.
At the same time, national regulation of this industry lags. Permits under the federal Clean Water Act remain the single most important resource for regulating pollution from point sources such as water treatment plants and industrial operations, but they have not been used effectively with CAFOs. Many states don't even know where all their CAFOs are, or whether they discharge manure into local waterways. A recent proposal by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to create a national database of CAFOs was withdrawn after strong opposition from the animal agriculture industry.
The Pew Environment Group believes that federal oversight of CAFO operations, done cooperatively with states under the Clean Water Act, is essential. In addition to protecting public health and the environment, such oversight would create a level playing field in which states with more stringent CAFO regulations wouldn't be at a disadvantage economically or have to bear responsibility for cleaning up CAFO pollution from neighboring states.
Chesapeake Bay communities shouldn't be left to pay the price for pollution from upstream states such as New York and Pennsylvania. But CAFOs around Maryland should be held accountable for bay pollution as well.