Federal Water Tap, March 21: Committee Hearings, Cabinet Talks

Water Talks
In recognition of World Water Day (observed on March 22), the State Department will be hosting a discussion on global water issues today, March 21, at 4:00 pm EDT. The conversation between Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero and Harriet Babbitt, co-chair of the Global Water Challenge, will be streamed live on www.state.gov. They need something to talk about, though, so they are accepting questions from the public. Submit your queries and comments here.

House Ag Committee, Part I
The House Committee on Agriculture continued the Congressional flagellation of the Environmental Protection Agency during two hearings to review the economic effect of EPA rules on farmers. Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Penn.), the chairman of the Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy, and Forestry, led a hearing on efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, saying that the EPA is “reaching far beyond its statutory authority” to write mandates “without sound methods of determining their impact on the health or economic viability of the Bay and the region’s agricultural communities.” EPA is operating under an executive order signed by President Obama in May 2009 to develop a federal plan to restore the nation’s largest estuary.

House Ag Committee, Part II
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson testified before the House Committee on Agriculture during a hearing on the economic effects of EPA rules on farmers. Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) said “farming is hard enough as it is without a government agency piling on additional burdens with irrational, overreaching, and costly regulations.” Expect several more hearings on the issue during this Congressional session.

And Some Good News for the Bay
Conservation practices in the Chesapeake Bay watershed have reduced sediment and nutrient runoff, according to a study released last week by the Department of Agriculture. USDA used models to simulate conservation practices in place from 2003 to 2006. The models, which used data gathered from farmers, showed that nitrogen in surface water decreased by 42 percent, phosphorus by 41 percent, and edge-of-field sediment by 55 percent. The study found that 19 percent of cultivated cropland in the watershed needs additional, high-level conservation treatment.

Clean Water Act Settlement
The Department of Justice has lodged a consent decree with CONSOL Energy and two other coal companies operating in West Virginia for discharging chlorides into the Ohio River basin in violation of the Clean Water Act. The companies have agreed to pay a $5.5 million civil penalty to the United States and the state of West Virginia. In addition, the defendants are building a treatment plant and collection system and have invested in a real-time monitoring system. This ruling comes two weeks after a $4 million settlement with Arch Coal, another coal company operating in West Virginia, for CWA violations.

Federal Water Tap is a weekly digest spotting trends in U.S. government water policy. To get more water news, follow Circle of Blue on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter.

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