The U.S. EPA, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and state agencies met on January 17, 2012 to sign a memorandum of understanding to develop an “agricultural water quality certification” program. The program will ensure that agriculture producers who met as-yet-undefined standards would be shielded from undefined future regulations and requirements for a fixed period of time.
MCEA is concerned that this program could lock in existing conservation practices, which are designed as minimums without regard to meeting water quality standards. Unless the certification program is designed to meet water quality standards – requiring sufficient conservation improvements to meet water quality standards in the aggregate – the program will not restore the state’s waters. Simply measuring the number of conservation practices would not be an improvement over the current approach and would not lead to clean water. It is not clear that the program will have sufficient funding to provide large-scale change.
The program would need independent oversight to ensure that the conservation changes are actually made and are maintained. At this point, nothing is known about independence of the inspectors, protections from conflict of interest, or monitoring requirements. For real assurance that practices take place, third party certifiers must be accredited, rigorously screened for conflicts of interest, and accountable to the public.
In addition, the program must be tailored to address entire farm systems, not just a few specific problems that apply statewide. There is not enough funding in the state to develop tailored conservation plans for every farm, subsidize implementation through cost-sharing, and oversee the maintenance of the practices. The program must target funding where it is needed most.
Any changes that would exempt agricultural producers from existing requirements would need meaningful public participation – the ability for the public to comment and to request a contested case hearing.
Read the Memo of Understanding here.