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February 9, 2014

Cambria fighting ruling on EPA regs

EBENSBURG — The Cambria County commissioners are backing an effort to have an appeals court overturn a decision allowing continued restrictions by the federal Environmental Protection Agency on farmers, sewer plants and others who impact water flowing into the Chesapeake Bay.

Cambria joined Clearfield, Lancaster, Perry and Tioga counties, a handful of regional governments and 21 states asking the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a decision months ago by a federal judge who ruled the EPA can implement rules that impact many from small farms to municipal sewer treatment plants.

At issue are the total maximum daily load numbers, which come from the treatment plants, farms and other sources, said Mark O’Neill, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.

No one is arguing that the EPA  doesn’t have the right to set those numbers, he said.

But the agency doesn’t have the authority to tell states what steps they must take to comply.

“We believe the EPA is overreaching its authority in making decisions which have been the authority of the states,” he said. “Congress would have to pass new regulations to give the EPA that authority.”

Establishing how to meet those load numbers is up to the individual states, O’Neill said.

While the interest of the American Farm Bureau Federation and the state chapter, which are leading the push to get the issues before the U.S. Supreme Court, are primarily concerned about the EPA’s impact of farmers, the matter is far more reaching.

“The big concerns are what the unknowns are going to be,” O’Neill said.

Patton farmer and farm bureau member Martin Yahner said he sought the support of the Cambria County commissioners because the state failed to become part of the appeal to the ruling.

“Agriculture is just a part of it. The EPA is overstepping its bounds,” he said.

Cambria County President Commissioner Douglas Lengenfelder said his concern among others is that the way the EPA is interpreting its power will have negative impact on farmers.

“What we’re saying is the way the EPA is interrupting the law is one-size-fits-all,” he said. “They are tying the hands of the farmers.”

O’Neill finds it frustrating that the EPA refused to look at the host of things farmers have done voluntarily over the years to minimize animal nutrient runoff from fields, pastures and holding areas.

“They did not take into consideration all of the voluntary measures farmers have already taken,” he said.

All filings are due to the court this spring. A decision is not expected before fall, O’Neill said.

Kathy Mellott covers environmental issues for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/kathymellotttd.

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