Tuesday, November 11, 2008

New Report

The Association of State and Interstate Water Pollution Control Administrators (ASIWPCA) has issued a report calling for a warm embrace between EPA and those charged with implementing the CWA in most instances.

As the administration changes, one can question how and if agriculture's treatment under the CWA will change. I tend to suspect that it will change, but the question of how is more difficult. Read the rest of this post . . . .As this report highlights, the difficulties abound. From funding to TMDLs to non-point sources and nutrient controls, the report contains a variety of suggestions for change. Whether or not this is change we can (or should) believe in, is another matter. For instance, a state and federal cooperative effort at controlling non-point source pollution in agriculture appears remote in a climate where CAFO regulations are only now becoming final. And increased funding, alone, won't get the job done under the current framework, which excludes agricultural stormwater from the definition of point sources and relies on states to set water quality standards, develop TMDLs and implement them.

Given the geographic problems and the technical difficulty of finding the appropriate standard for controlling nutrients, states and local governments must play a key role, along with NRCS and EPA. So far, however, their progress has been lackluster. And I'm not sure state reluctance can be chalked up to funding. After all, states have always had the power to enact a different framework to control the problem.

The arguments contained in this report are troubling if one views the state's responsibility as one to control the pollution emerging from its borders. As I've mentioned before on this blog, the normative justification for funding the execution of this responsibility is fleeting. And this is true whether we are talking about federal payments to states or any payments to polluters. Of course, if we are exacting from agriculture an environmental benefit to which we are not entitled at base, then payment would seem to be in order. But I have a difficult time conceptualizing efforts at improving water quality as exactions. And statements like "Implementation of TMDL-driven reductions from nonpoint sources are typically very difficult to achieve reliably across the whole watershed because States are generally limited to voluntary, incentive-based programs to achieve results" (from the report) ignore the larger problem. States are only limited in this regard in a political sense. If a subsidiary level of government is unwilling to recognize and control the harms it inflicts on others (as one would expect), then the political will has to come from within a larger set of political boundaries within which those harms are felt. Our system is, at least when the harms are related to commercial endeavors, built to do this with legislation at the federal level. Whether it should include funding is an entirely different matter.

In any event, however, the report is interesting and I expect some changes to how we regulate agriculture's relationship with the resources it uses.

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