The Supreme Court by deciding to do nothing has helped the Chesapeake Bay. What was at stake was a cleanup program designed by the Environmental Protection Agency and the states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Challenge from Afar
Locally, most people seemed to be aboard for the plan. However, there were challengers from other parts of the United States including the American Farm Bureau Federation (a group that doesn’t believe in climate change).
They challenged the Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan, saying that the federal government shouldn’t have a role and that it should be solely up to the states in the Chesapeake watershed.
Why is a Cleanup Important?
The activities of man has had a dramatic impact on the Chesapeake. Many species survive at only a small fraction of their original abundance. The number of oysters in the Bay is at 1% of historic levels. All the water in the bay used to be filtered every day or two by all the oysters. The water used to be crystal clear. Since the 1950s it has been murky. There is too much sediment and pollution in the water. Sediment from runoff across the entire watershed, pollution from multiple sources including runoff, factories, farms and waste treatment plants, and nutrient runoff from farms causing algal blooms that cloud the water and suck the oxygen out of the water creating dead zones where nothing can live.
Lower Court Ruling Stands
In 2013, Judge Sylvia Rambo of the US District Court ruled that the Clean Water Act allows the EPA to work with the six states in the watershed. In her decision, she pointed to the economic and ecologic importance of the Bay. The amount harvested from the Bay is way down because of over-harvesting and pollution. But, the Bay is the largest estuary system in the United States and one of the largest in the world. The judge liked the “holistic watershed approach” that the plan uses. Plus she said that there was support for the cleanup agreement in the Clean Water Act legislation and its legislative history as well as support from prior Supreme Court precedent.
Why the Farm Bureau Federation Fought the Legislation
A lot of pollution comes from excess fertilizer runoff from farm land as well as runoff from manure from factory farms. In the case of the Chesapeake, chicken farms on the Eastern Shore, but also from cows. A question is whether the EPA will use the win from this case with the Chesapeake to organize cleanups of other waterways across the US.
Groups that were critical of the opposition by the American Farm Bureau Federation said that they had shown little if any interest in the Chesapeake before they filled the suit in 2011. These groups, probably correctly, said that the only reason the suit was filed was to try to keep the EPA from regulating pollution of the Mississippi River caused by runoff from mega-farms. These mega-farms are who the Federation represents and prior to this they had only focused on the Mid-West and not the Chesapeake.
Republicans Against the Environment
So not only did the American Farm Bureau Federation try to fight the cleanup agreement, but also the attorneys general in 21 states, mostly Republican, joined in the fight. These were states no where close to the Chesapeake Bay watershed, including places like Montana and Alaska. This was not appreciated by the states in the watershed who had come to the agreement with the EPA.
Besides the attorneys general, home builders and chemical and fertilizer companies also tried to fight the agreement.
Farmers are worried about the expense of having to put up barriers to prevent runoff of fertilizer and manure during rain storms. Municipalities will also have to spend millions to upgrade their sewer systems so human waste doesn’t flow into the Bay and its tributaries during storms. But, the end result should be a much healthier Bay.