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Rising tide of EPA watershed regulation reaches Gulf of Mexico

WASHINGTON—On Oct. 5, the Obama Administration expanded its water quality protection efforts to the 31-state watershed of the Gulf of Mexico.

An executive order was issued that "establishes a Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force to coordinate intergovernmental responsibilities, planning, and exchange of information so as to better implement Gulf Coast ecosystem restoration and to facilitate appropriate accountability and support throughout the restoration process."

The executive order comes on the heels of a similar order focusing on the six-state Chesapeake Bay watershed, which includes more than half of Virginia. The New River in Southwest Virginia is outside the bay watershed but drains to the Gulf of Mexico and is now among waterways covered by the new executive order.

"We anticipated this action, and we will continue to monitor it closely," said Wayne F. Pryor, president of Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, the state’s largest agricultural organization. Farm Bureau has been vocal in its opposition of Senate Bill 1816, the proposed Chesapeake Clean Water and Ecosystem Restoration Act of 2010, now before the U.S. Senate.

The organization asserts that the bill places a goal of bay restoration above all economic and social considerations and abandons bay states’ independent authorities to plan for land and water uses. It also maintains that the bill will bring about U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mandates that are based on inaccurate information about existing farm conservation practices in the bay watershed.

Farm Bureau and its national affiliate, the American Farm Bureau Federation, expect the EPA to begin ramping up regulatory efforts in the gulf as the agency has done in the bay watershed.

"Our concern is that, in a rush to improve waterways with which humans have had contact for centuries, farms and ranches from one end of the nation to the other will be awash in ill-planned and potentially unfunded federal mandates," Pryor said. "Our hope is that any legislation that results from the Oct. 5 executive order requires all relevant industries to do their share to protect the gulf, and that any legislation considers steps farmers and ranchers already have taken to do so."

Contact Wilmer Stoneman, VFBF associate director of governmental relations, at 804-290-1024.

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