Guest comment: Courtroom drama won’t save the Bay

(Editor's note: American Farm Bureau Federation and Pennsylvania Farm Bureau have filed a federal lawsuit to halt the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay pollution regulatory plan. AFBF said that the EPA overreached by setting up a plan for the entire 64,000 square-mile Chesapeake watershed, usurped state control, relied on faulty data and failed to account for agriculture’s contributions to improving water quality, and provided insufficient information and time for the public to check EPA’s actions.)

President, American Farmland Trust

As a person involved in my family’s farm operation, a former EPA agricultural appointee, and the President of American Farmland Trust, an organization that supports farms and conservation, let me be the first to say that our nation faces serious environmental challenges and that agriculture has central role, both as contributor to the problems and as part of the solution.
Lawsuits are the worst possible and least effective way to address environmental issues, even in the Chesapeake Bay.
In the process of filing suit, trust is destroyed, the environmental challenges get oversimplified and lots of time and money get wasted while the problems persist. And I feel both “sides” in this fight have been too willing to resort to this tactic.
Unfortunately, litigation sets up a fight between clean water and viable farms when there are ways to co-exist — because in the end, both agriculture and environmentalists have a common goal: clean water, a plentiful supply of food and a healthy environment for our families and future generations.
Amidst the shouting and courtroom drama, the stories of producers doing their part to clean up the bay waters, or of successful collaborations between farmers and environmentalists will get lost.
At American Farmland Trust, we are committed to clean water and viable farms, and we know those are not mutually exclusive. Through our work we’ve seen that there are solutions to the bay’s environmental issues that have the support of agriculture and environmental stakeholders.
What works? The solutions must emanate from a culture of collaboration. Farmers are pragmatic, and they are willing to acknowledge agriculture’s role in contributing to the bay’s water quality problems. And as someone involved in my family’s farm operation,  I know that we want to do our part, to be a part of the solution. When we resort to all or nothing positions, trust and compromise become even more difficult to achieve.
Environmentalists need to acknowledge the complexity of agricultural issues, and together, all of us need to acknowledge that the solutions to help agriculture do its part in cleaning up the bay are expensive. Simply put, the economic concerns of Chesapeake watershed farmers are not baseless — in fact, they are beyond what most consumers and business owners can comprehend.
We will not get past these barriers, and find a workable combination of farm techniques, policies and regulations to address until all sides talk to each other with patience and reason—two qualities the courtroom doesn’t readily assure.
Over the last 30 years, AFT has worked to bridge the divide between agriculture and environmental interests through policy efforts at the local, state and national level. We’ve bridged the divide through research, and directly by convening disparate interests.
In recent years, AFT has worked with farmers to demonstrate an innovative system that addresses the financial risks that farmers face when adopting new Bay-friendly production methods.
I know our nation’s environmental issues are challenging. I know that finding solutions to the issues of the Chesapeake Bay seem daunting.
I have seen what “opponents” can accomplish when they form a new team and work toward their common goals.
Let’s not delay. Let’s leave the drama in the courtroom, and work together on a new farm team to find solutions that keep our farms and the bay healthy, now.