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Clean Water Network’s “March Madness” DC Gathering

March 22, 2010

The Clean Water Network, a coalition of over 1,000 organizations working together to protect the nation’s waters, held a “March Madness” fly-in in Washington D.C. on March 14-16.  NSAC and many of our member organizations are Network members.

Key fly-in events had an agricultural focus.  A congressional briefing on March 15, entitled “The Mississippi – The River Left Behind,” addressed nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in the River which ultimately contributes to a hypoxic dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.  Much of this pollution results from agricultural activity in states bordering the Mississippi River, as well as Ohio and Indiana where farms contribute to pollution in the Ohio River, a major tributary of the Mississippi River.

The briefing addressed the sources and consequences of nutrient pollution, the work of the Mississippi River Collaborative – funded by the McKnight Foundation to seek solutions to nutrient loading throughout the River Basin, and a report summarizing federal government resources available to deal with Mississippi River Basin pollution.  At the close of the briefing, Sierra Club Water Sentinels Tom Guilfoyle and Hank Graddy spoke about their petition to EPA urging that the agency establish numeric Clean Water Act nutrient standards for the Mississippi River.  The Sierra Club gathered almost 42,000 signatures on this petition.  The EPA’s Office of Inspector General issued a report in 2009 that focused on the need for numeric water quality standards for nutrients.

On March 16, March Madness participants met with EPA officials to discuss nutrient standards and a wide array of agricultural issues.  This meeting was the first in a series of Clean Water Network in-depth dialogues with EPA to address specific Clean Water Act issues.  Albert Ettinger of the Environmental Law and Policy Center led a discussion on numeric nutrient standards, which included the official presentation of the Sierra Club’s petition with 42,000 signatures to EPA.  NSAC staff member, Martha Noble, led the discussion with EPA Agricultural Counselor Larry Elworth and EPA staff on agricultural issues.

Topics covered included urging EPA to revise and strengthen the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) regulation, which was issued in 2008 and immediately challenged in court by environmentalists for being too lax.  The Network wants EPA to eliminate a provision that allows CAFOs to self-certify that they will not discharge pollutants without any public review or sufficient regulatory oversight.  Participants also urged EPA to strengthen CAFO pollution controls, especially controls on bacteria, heavy metals and other pollutants that are not covered by a CAFO nutrient management plan.

EPA staff announced at the meeting that EPA will be reviewing its guidance for the Clean Water Act Section 319 program which provides funds for projects to deal with non-point source pollution.

The agency is also noted it is working on proposed regulation to address pesticide drift that ends up in lakes, streams, rivers and other water bodies.  The regulation was required by the ruling of the Federal 6th Circuit Court of Appeal in the case National Cotton Council v. EPA. The court disapproved an EPA regulation that exempted permit requirements for pesticide applications into water bodies or applications near water bodies that resulted in the pesticides getting into the water, if the pesticide application complied with the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide & Rodenticide Act.  Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Petitions for Certiorari from Croplife and the American Farm Bureau Federation to review the lower court decision.

The day after the fly-in, EPA announced a web discussion forum where the public can submit comments for a two-week period on specific issues including Managing Pollutants from Nutrients, in preparation for a Coming Together for Clean Water conference in April.  At the conference, the agency will engage approximately 100 leaders on the agency’s clean water agenda.  The control of nutrient pollution is one of the highest priority issues.

Categories: Conservation, Energy & Environment

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