locally owned since 1854

Ed Schafer: A way to keep Bay cleanup affordable

Posted 11/7/12

For 40 years, the federal and local governments have been trying to reduce nutrients flowing through our streams, marshes and wetlands surrounding the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Excess nitrogen has created dead zones in the bay that should concern …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Ed Schafer: A way to keep Bay cleanup affordable


Local, state and federal officials have invested hundreds of millions of dollars addressing this problem through the years, but the results have been disappointing. It is apparent that the current strategy is not only expensive, but fails to incorporate new technologies implemented on the local level that will have the most impact on cleaning up the watershed.

A large portion of nitrogen and phosphorous flowing through Pennsylvania’s waterways can be traced to livestock and farming operations. Recently, studies have shown the solution to cleaning the watershed must include treating agriculture at its source.

If states like Pennsylvania are to provide any meaningful and sustainable nutrient reductions to satisfy the environmental community and the federal government, this should be a common-sense addition to solving the problem.

New technologies can remove nitrogen and phosphorous before they damage our air and water – and long before the nutrients reach municipal water treatment plants and the Chesapeake Bay.  

One such installation in Lancaster County has recently been initiated through a public-private partnership with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Bion Environmental Technologies and Kreider Farms. In July, the Department of Environmental Protection issued a final water quality management permit that included an approved verification plan for the Bion Kreider Dairy Farms installation. As a result, nutrient reductions will be verified and eligible for use at a cost that is on average about 75 percent lower to the ratepayers than traditional removal efforts.

Remediation for nutrients has long been unaffordable by livestock operators and, therefore, the removal costs have been paid for by ratepayers at municipal waste and storm water treatment facilities.

Since Pennsylvania farms are one of the largest producers of nitrogen in the state, it just makes sense for policymakers to implement new programs that can encourage farmers to participate.  

To pass on savings to ratepayers and help local municipalities meet expensive requirements to upgrade treatment facilities to meet their Chesapeake Bay mandate, the state must employ a transparent bidding program that will enable the public and private sectors to develop projects and to submit bids to reduce nutrient loadings to the bay by providing verified reductions.

The Pennsylvania legislature is currently studying whether a competitive bidding approach can provide the benefits that prior studies have identified.  It also will examine local environmental benefits, as well as potential impacts on economic development and various methods of funding such a program.  

States that adopt science-based, low-cost sustainable solutions for their nutrient compliance issues will be rewarded with healthier environments and lower overall financial burdens on ratepayers and taxpayers.

Ed Schafer is the former governor of North Dakota and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. He is the executive vice chair with Bion Environmental Technologies.