EPA "pollution diet" starves agriculture: farm group

ATLANTA (Reuters) - The head of the largest U.S. farm group called on Congress to stop ruinous EPA “over-regulation” of agriculture and announced on Sunday a lawsuit against EPA rules to reduce Chesapeake Bay pollution.

Bob Stallman, president of the 6 million-member American Farm Bureau Federation, announced the lawsuit during a speech that opened the group’s annual meeting. He said the Environmental Protection Agency’s “over-regulation endangers our industry.”

Farmers have been leery of EPA for years. Opposition has grown in the past couple of years out of concern that regulation of greenhouse gases will drive up farming expenses and that EPA may tell farmers to limit dust from fields.

“Our message to the new Congress is clear: It is time to stop the EPA,” said Stallman. “But we don’t intend to leave this to Congress alone. We are prepared to carry this battle to the courts.”

A lawsuit will be filed on Monday in U.S. District Court in Scranton, Pennsylvania, to block the Chesapeake Bay “pollution diet” announced by EPA on December 29, he told reporters later.

The “diet” calls for a 25 percent reduction in nitrogen, 24 percent reduction in phosphorus and 20 percent reduction in sediment runoff by 2025. Six states -- Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia -- and the District of Columbia are obliged to impose new controls on wastewater and storm water runoff from cities and on agricultural runoff.

Mandatory controls on agriculture are possible in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and New York state by 2013 if pollution reductions fall behind schedule, says EPA.

Stallman said “this diet threatens to starve agriculture out of the entire 64,000 square-mile Chesapeake Bay watershed.” EPA puts too much emphasis on agricultural runoff and is too forgiving of pollution from urban development, he said.

Asked to name the biggest issue for U.S. farmers, Stallman said, “I think the biggest battles in 2011 will be regulatory.”

During his keynote speech, Stallman said the farm sector has increased crop and livestock productivity dramatically since 1950. Farmers produce 262 percent food and use slightly fewer “inputs,” such as fertilizer, pesticides and fuel, he said, but some regulators “are ready to downsize American agriculture, mothball our productivity and out-source our farms.”

AFBF delegates, who set the organization’s policy, are expected to approve a resolution on Tuesday asking lawmakers to rein in EPA.

“We think that agency is out of control right now and is throwing everything but the kitchen sink at agriculture,” said Phil Nelson, president of the Illinois Farm Bureau.

The new Republican chairman of the House Agriculture Committee says EPA proposals on spray drift and farm dust as topics for congressional review this year.

Reporting by Charles Abbott; Editing by Diane Craft