Farms here may face new federal inspections if Pennsylvania is unable to meet its commitments to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.
The inspections were proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency after it found that the state may not be on track to meet its 2025 pollution-reduction targets, especially on the agricultural front.
“Our presence in the field is intended to underscore the culture of compliance needed to abate the pollutant discharges from the thousands of smaller animal operations,” EPA spokesman David Sternberg said.
Runoff from farms in the county into the Susquehanna River is a key source of pollution that eventually threatens aquatic life in the bay.
EPA has threatened the state with on-the-farm inspections in the past, and it followed through with two well-publicized crackdowns in Lancaster County — in 2009 and 2013, near Intercourse and in Bart Township, respectively, mostly targeting Plain sect farms.
Even as the agency said Pennsylvania "will need to place considerably greater emphasis on increasing implementation in the agriculture sector," it acknowledged the progress the state has made.
Reviewing Pennsylvania’s progress through 2015, EPA lauded the state effort for meeting its target to reduce the nutrient phosphorus. And the state is on track to meet its 2017 goal of reducing sediment washing into streams that eventually reach the bay.
Also, the federal agency responsible for carrying out President Barack Obama’s executive order to clean up the nation’s largest estuary by 2025 acknowledged Pennsylvania’s recent “reboot” strategy to step up pollution reductions.
But EPA made it known that it feels the state faces an uphill road to meet its commitments by 2025 for nitrogen and phosphorus. And the focus will need to be on agriculture, the agency said.
EPA then listed some “potential” federal actions, including on-the-farm inspections of small farms to make sure they have state-required manure-management and erosion-control plans. EPA may also look at classifying some farms as concentrated animal feeding operations to bring them under stricter pollution control.
And the agency wants to ensure that federal grant money is used to aiding farmers install conservation practices in priority watersheds.
EPA spokesman Sternberg said the inspections were not meant to undermine recent plans in the state’s rebooting strategy to have conservation districts checking on farmers.
“While our agency is encouraged by Pennsylvania’s renewed commitment, we will continue providing assistance and oversight. We will continue holding the Commonwealth accountable for meeting their bay restoration commitments.”
Farm Bureau opposed
Asked about the federal inspection plans, Neil Shader, spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said the state agency appreciates recognition that DEP is on track for 2025 goals. Shader also acknowledged that "significant work remains.”
However the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, as it has in the past, criticized the computer models EPA uses to estimate pollution loads and cleanup progress.
“When focusing on agriculture, the assessments made by the EPA were made without considering many of the extensive best-management practices implemented by farmers without the assistance of the federal government,” said spokesman Mark O’Neill.
If those are included, farmers are confident that "agriculture will be much closer to meeting its goals than currently indicated by EPA,” O'Neill said.
Harry Campbell, head of the Pennsylvania office of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said that it remains to be seen if the state will commit “vital” funding for the cleanup to succeed.
Pennsylvania has to make "cleaning up our rivers and streams a priority,” he said. “... it is unacceptable that the Commonwealth continues to languish.”