Lancaster County farmland off Route 741 in Paradise Township is seen in this file photo.

The U.S. Supreme Court Monday morning refused to hear an appeal by the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau and others, thereby letting stand an earlier court ruling that the Chesapeake Bay cleanup is legal and may continue.

That means that intense on-the-farm conservation efforts aimed at Lancaster County and Pennsylvania farmers will remain in place.

In 2012, the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, its parent American Farm Bureau, ag-industry groups and a national homebuilding group sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, claiming that the agency had overstepped its power by meddling in the rights of states by dictating measures to reduce farm runoff and sewage plant upgrades.

Pennsylvania did not actively join in defending the federal government’s bay cleanup efforts but said the state “actively supports it.”

The Lancaster County Commission signed on as friends of the court in supporting the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. Commissioner Craig Lehman refused to sign the letter.

In 2013, U.S. District Judge Sylvia Rambo ruled that the federal government did not overstep its rights.

That ruling was appealed to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Last July,  the original ruling in support of the federal government’s role in cleaning up the bay was again upheld.

“The losers are rural counties with farming operations, nonpoint source polluters, the agricultural industry and those states that would prefer a lighter touch from the EPA,” the three judges said in its conclusion.

In a last-ditch effort, the farm bureaus asked the U.S. Supreme to hear their case. Monday, the Supreme Court justices refused.

Groups supporting the long effort to improve the bay were quick to react to the decision.

“This is a historic day for the bay,” said William C. Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a private group supporting the cleanup.

“Everyone who cares about clean water can breathe easier now that the Supreme Court has let stand the lower court decision that Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint is perfectly legal under the federal Clean Water Act.

“Now that all of the legal challenges have been denied, we hope those who have opposed the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint will devote their time, expertise and money to working with all of the clean-water partners to help Save the Bay.”

Jacquelyn Bonomo, vice president of PennFuture, said, “The Blueprint is a significant partnership across states and sectors to correct years of pollution, degradation and impairment to the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Today’s ruling upholds a science-based plan to improve water quality and public health in Pennsylvania and throughout the bay states."

“The U.S. Supreme Court has made the right call,” said  Defenders of Wildlife.

Added National Wildlife Federation president Collin O’Mara, “Today is a great day for the Chesapeake’s fish, crabs and other wildlife. Now is the time for all parties to the lawsuit to come together, roll up their sleeves and work collaboratively to restore the bay.”

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