An EPA official says he plans to be both helpful and a regulator as Pennsylvania hits the home stretch to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.
Adam Ortiz, who has been the EPA’s Mid-Atlantic regional official since October, also said he wanted to see the cleanup process from a farmers’ perspective.
“It’s clear to us farmers that we want to help,” Ortiz said.
Agriculture is an essential part of Pennsylvania’s pollution reduction strategy.
The state submitted a revised cleanup plan to the Environmental Protection Agency at the end of December that Pennsylvania says will meet its 2025 goals to reduce the flow of nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment into the bay.
The plan, which draws on $750 million in new government spending, replaces the 2019 plan that would have fallen short of pollution targets.
Ortiz said he expects the EPA to get a response to the revised plan by the end of February.
If the plan is not successful in obtaining permits, the EPA can expand the number of entities that must obtain permits, or increase requirements on existing permit holders. All sectors, including agriculture, can be in trouble.
“This is our last resort,” Ortiz said. “Our goal is really (to achieve) results and partnership.”
The Environmental Protection Agency has tens of millions of dollars to help Pennsylvania catch up. This funding will help, but Ortiz said there is no alternative yet to improve the state’s management of compost, from storage and transportation to fencing and buffers.
At the same time, Ortiz wants to meet with farmers to understand their views on conservation.
He said, “They understand.” “They need to remain viable, they need help to shift to more modern practices, and that’s the responsibility of the public sector — federal, local and state partners. We can help.”
It can be difficult for farmers to afford compost storage units without government involvement in the cost, and federal advisors often play a large role in setting up flush stockers.
One of Ortiz’s first trips since joining the Environmental Protection Agency was to meet with the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. Ortiz walked away from the discussion encouraging.
“Regulators and farmers don’t always agree, but what I found by the end of that meeting is that we are 95% in agreement on the same goals,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz also plans to take a three-day tour of farms in Lancaster County, which produces most of the agricultural runoff in the state and is thus key to cleanup.
Ortiz and AG consultant Kelly Schenk are planning a visit with crop and dairy growers, the Pennsylvania No-Tail Alliance, and Lancaster Clean Water partners.
It is common for EPA leaders to express their support for farmers. However, Ortiz’s position that the agency can punish states before the Gulf clean-up is complete is a return to paradigm after the Trump administration.
Andrew Wheeler, the Trump-appointed administrative officer, said states could not default until 2025, so the agency had no reason to act before then.
In turn, the Obama administration briefly held back some funding from Pennsylvania until the state announced its “reboot” plan for cleanup in 2016.