In a major policy change to meet Chesapeake Bay requirements, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will shift its focus on farmers from educational efforts to stricter enforcement of nutrient requirements. Farmers can expect more frequent inspections and possible penalties for failure to have acceptable Nutrient Management Plans. The new policy was announced January 21, 2016 by Secretaries of DEP, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and is intended to reduce the amount of nutrients being discharged into streams, and eventually the Chesapeake Bay. These efforts are required to meet standards established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Important takeaways for farmers:
- DEP’s data indicates that approximately 70% of farms do not have Nutrient Management Plans (NMPs), even though NMPs are required by law on all farms.
- There is going to be a shift from funding educational programming to enforcement through county Conservation District inspections. DEP’s goal is to inspect 10% of farms statewide on an annual basis.
- Farms will be inspected for compliance with an NMP and Sediment and Erosion Control Plans.
- Being on a waiting list to have a NMP written through a cost-share program will no longer be an excuse for non-compliance.
- Non-compliance will result in an enforcement action against the farmer. The enforcement action will require the farmer to agree to obtain a NMP within a certain amount of time set by DEP. Non-compliance by farmers could result in civil penalties.
- There will be a effort to account for Best Management Practices (BMPs) that have been voluntarily implemented on farms in Pennsylvania. This accounting will occur in partnership with organizations such as the PA Farm Bureau and Penn Ag Industries. Farmers are encouraged by the state to participate in the surveys that will collect information about voluntary BMPs implemented on their farms.
- DEP will not alter its plans to clean up the Bay even if the requirements set by the EPA are struck down by the Supreme Court. DEP stressed that access to clean water is a right under Pennsylvania’s Constitution, and that the efforts to clean up waters of the Commonwealth will continue regardless of events at the federal level.
If you have questions about how increased inspections and potential enforcement actions will affect your farm or business, please contact us. Stock and Leader has attorneys with extensive experience at DEP and with the agricultural community who can help you navigate this new regulatory environment.