Noah W. Wenger
State Senator of Pennsylvania
Senator Noah W. Wenger is serving his fifth term representing Pennsylvania’s 36th District, which is situated in Lancaster County. He is a veteran of the Pennsylvania State Legislature having served in the House of Representatives for six years, from 1977 to 1982, representing the 99th Legislative District. He was elected to the Pennsylvania Senate in 1982.
Senator Wenger serves as Majority Caucus Chairman; a position that makes him a member of Senate leadership and directly involves him in the policy-making decisions for the Republican Caucus affecting the state. He also serves on several other Senate committees, including Appropriations, Banking and Insurance, Rules and Executive Nominations, State Government, and he is Vice Chairman of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee.
Senator Wenger was the key architect of Pennsylvania’s farmland preservation law, which has permanently preserved over 1,500 farms in the Commonwealth, including 28,000 acres in Lancaster County. He has worked diligently to secure funding for this program since its establishment in 1989. Pennsylvania is now the number one state in the nation for farmland preservation. Senator Wenger was instrumental in securing funds in 2001 for the continuation of the crop insurance program which provides a subsidy to farmers towards the cost of crop insurance premiums. This program saves the Commonwealth millions of dollars by enabling the farming community to insure against natural crop disasters.
In addition to his various committee assignments, the Senator is a member of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, the Executive Committee of the Joint State Government Commission, the Legislative Audit Advisory Commission and the Firefighter’s Caucus. He is also a director of the Ephrata National Bank, as well as a member of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau and several civic organizations.
Senator Wenger is the owner of a livestock and poultry farm and resides in Stevens, Pennsylvania with his wife Barbara.
I was asked to offer some comments on two very important issues, and more specifically on the way those two issues affect one another. They are Pennsylvania agriculture and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. As you know from my introduction, I have had a considerable amount of involvement with both issues. I would like to focus on the role of Pennsylvania agriculture in the Bay restoration effort and look beyond to the long-term impacts that the restoration effort will have on the Commonwealth’s most important industry.
To start out, let me first put the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort in some historical perspective. The restoration effort has been underway since the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its scientific report documenting the Bay’s ill health more than 25 years ago.
Early efforts were led by Maryland and Virginia, in concert with the federal EPA. Pennsylvania joined the effort in 1983, when then Lt. Governor Bill Scranton signed a multi-state agreement on behalf of the Commonwealth committing the cooperation of Pennsylvania to the effort.
That action then led to the enactment of legislation by all three states in 1985 establishing Pennsylvania as a full member of the Chesapeake Bay Commission. Since then, both the administrative and legislative braches of Pennsylvania government, as well as its citizenry and business interests, have been very much a part of the restoration effort in Pennsylvania.
The nature and structure of this multi-jurisdictional restoration initiative, now formally referred to as the “Chesapeake Bay Program,” has had considerable influence in shaping the role of Pennsylvania agriculture. Two factors lead to that conclusion.
First, as has been well documented, the Program from very early on directed its focus on nutrient enrichment in the Bay. Much, but not all of that attention was focused on trying to address nutrient loads being contributed by agricultural activity in the watershed. A second and perhaps telling aspect of the Program was the fact that it was structured as a cooperative partnership between jurisdictions. Until now, this has been the hallmark of the Program, and it profoundly influenced how Pennsylvania agriculture was brought into the mix.
Under the cooperative approach, the states were given the discretion to determine their own strategies for addressing excess nutrient loads attributable to their respective jurisdictions.
The EPA study mentioned earlier pointed to a nutrient load coming down the Susquehanna River that equaled 120 million pounds of nitrogen per year and 4.5 million pounds of phosphorus.
With regard to the nitrogen load, which is far and away the lion’s share of the nutrients coming from Pennsylvania; the EPA study concluded that only 11 percent of the load is attributable to point sources, and 89 percent to non-point sources. Of this 89 percent, it assigned 50 percent of that to agricultural activity. (Though many questioned whether it was appropriate to tag agriculture with that high a percentage of the non-point load, it remains as the assumption used even today in the Bay Program. More will be said about this later.)
Pennsylvania exercised its discretion by moving forward with a group of initiatives it felt best suited its interests.
First, to address point sources of nutrients, it adopted a phosphate detergent ban to limit excess phosphorus loadings from sewage treatment plants. Similar steps were also taken in Maryland and Virginia.
For non-point sources, it established a cost-share program to assist Pennsylvania agriculture with the implementation of best management practices on the land. If agriculture was being identified as a major part of the problem, then Pennsylvania felt its first efforts would be focused on assisting the farm community address the issue in a cooperative way.
Following these initial efforts, and in response to growing pressure to impose mandatory restrictions and permits on agricultural operations, the Pennsylvania General Assembly adopted Act 6, Pennsylvania Nutrient Management Law.
Led by the efforts of the Pennsylvania members of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, the law was structured with a planning approach, rather than a new permitting scheme, and was designed to establish a voluntary program, complete with technical and financial assistance, for all but concentrated animal production operations. For the latter, planning is required rather than voluntary.
A year after the law was passed, we saw another opportunity to continue the cooperative nature of our program in the area of seed and feed formulation. The Pennsylvania members of the Chesapeake Bay Commission convened an international symposium in Harrisburg in 1994 to highlight innovations in seed and feed research, including the use of phytase, an amino acid, in feed formulations.
The symposium generated interest in the United States to garner FDA approval of phytase the following year. It also generated interest in the industry to utilize phytase, which reduces the nutrient concentration in manure by up to 30 percent. In Pennsylvania, Wenger Feeds led the introduction of phytase. Ironically, in Maryland, the state saw our success and mandated the use of phytase in its nutrient management law. This is perhaps the best example I can offer which shows how different the approach is in each of the states involved in the Bay restoration effort. In Pennsylvania, we traditionally rely on voluntary cooperation first, and only move towards regulation when and where it’s warranted.
In the meantime, and more recently, a nuance under federal law has emerged that is fundamentally changing the underpinnings of the Chesapeake Bay Program.
As a result of litigation brought against EPA and the states all over the country, a new regulatory program, albeit controversial, has emerged to address water quality impairment. It’s known as the TMDL program, which stands for Total Maximum Daily Load. For water bodies determined to be impaired by one or more forms of pollution, a TMDL must be adopted which imposes new regulatory requirements designed to control and reduce the sources of impairment.
Now that the Chesapeake Bay has been designated as impaired by the EPA, the nature of the restoration effort changes from being a cooperative effort to one that is both cooperative and regulatory.
Given the successes seen to date under the Bay Program, and at the urging of the states, EPA has agreed to give the states until 2010, to continue their cooperative approach and eliminate the impairment. Unless the impairment is successfully addressed, a TMDL, must be written for the Bay, under which a series of regulatory requirements will be imposed throughout the Bay watershed for both point and non-point sources.
In the meantime, all the watershed states, including the addition of New York, West Virginia and Delaware, have executed a Memorandum of Understanding establishing a separate, yet affiliated process under which the regulatory standards and criteria are being developed. Modification and adoption of revised standards and conditions are contemplated in each of the jurisdictions between 2005 and 2010.
Let me also point out that this new regulatory TMDL program is not about to unfold in Pennsylvania just because of the Bay program. In fact, we have waters in Pennsylvania that are also considered to be impaired, and we are faced with the same process to address water quality in these waters as well. Some of the areas identified in Pennsylvania as being impaired, have nutrient and sediment problems, so with or without the Bay program we’re likely to see regulatory issues being faced by Pennsylvania agriculture.
The emergence of this new regulatory overlay to the Bay Program will no doubt have implications for Pennsylvania agriculture. To the extent that greater nutrient load reductions will be necessary from non-point sources to address impairment, including from agriculture, the voluntary/mandatory structure under Act 6 may well be superseded by new regulatory requirements that go far beyond the requirements of Act 6.
These actions may be necessary to address local impairment problems, as well as those related to the Bay. Regardless, the implications for agriculture may well be the same whether the impairment, particularly for nutrients, is localized or not. What will it mean for us in Pennsylvania? I can’t say for sure, but I’m confident that the regulations will get tighter.
Let me give you a few more numbers that support this conclusion. First, as of 2000, the nitrogen load to the Bay was estimated to be 285 million pounds annually. This was down 53 million pounds from the level identified in 1985. However, under this new TMDL exercise the Bay Program is undertaking, they have set a target (just recently announced) to cap nitrogen loads to the Bay at 175 million pounds. This means we will be asked to reduce the loads by another 105 million pounds, from all sources. This reduction, which they want to reach in seven years (2010), is twice as much as we have reduced over the last 18 years from all sources of the Bay states, and at considerable cost .(I might add).
Beyond the possibility of additional regulations, there is also hope that additional incentives will be developed(as well). One such incentive is( something) called nutrient trading. Under a nutrient trading program, incentives would be provided to get one private party to pay for nutrient controls for another under the premise that reductions in nitrogen (for example) can be obtained most efficiently if people are allowed to seek out the best cost solutions. A pilot-trading program is now in the planning stages in the Conestoga watershed.
Another potential opportunity in the area of incentives can be found in the new Farm Bill. To take advantage of the greatly expanded conservation provisions of the Farm Bill, the Chesapeake Bay Commission and the states have petitioned the USDA to approve what has been dubbed the Chesapeake Bay Working Lands Pilot Program. The pilot would bring an additional $20 million per year into the Bay region to assist farmers in implementing a number of best management practices that promote the conservation objectives we are all interested in.
Recently, a report completed by the Chesapeake Bay Commission looked at the cost of meeting the proposed goals of the Bay Program. This study revealed that based on what we think the states and federal government are likely to spend between now and 2010; there will be an approximate $13 billion shortfall in funding. In the current economic climate, there’s little optimism that the shortfall can be overcome. Instead, we will need to be aggressive in trying to reduce those costs, and simultaneously make sure that every dollar spent is applied to the most efficient advantage.
In the end though, what the Bay restoration effort needs the most is agriculture itself. People have been quick to give farmers an environmental black eye because of the nutrient issue, but if the farmer were to fade from the scene and be replaced by housing developments, the implications for the Bay would be even more critical.
It’s a bit ironic – people seem to be at war at times with agriculture, but yet they want agricultural lands to remain open and undeveloped. Some of us believe that the future of agriculture in the Commonwealth will ultimately gain the respect and support it deserves, and be appreciated for the environmental value our lands represent, but to get there we need to stop the misinformed controversy in some townships over the expansion of agricultural operations.
The war has also extended to Harrisburg, and manifested itself in the acrimonious debate over Senate Bill 1413, which I co-sponsored last session. (As many of you may know) This legislation was intended to limit townships from enacting ordinances that might restrict the expansion of agricultural operations. Yet, some of the opponents claimed that it was anti-family farm. Personally, I completely disagree with these opponents because I think they overlook the long-term viability of agriculture.
When a family farmer decided to expand his farm in a responsible and regulated way, he should not be looked upon as a bad actor. If family farmers realize that by expanding their production farming operations they have the ability to make their operations more profitable and stay in existence, then that only better serves the environment.
Since agriculture needs to operate in a prudent environmental manner, and I think everyone would agree it should, then we need to let the state laws, regulations and programs guide that activity across the Commonwealth. This is precisely why we wrote the Nutrient Management Act the way we did. The Act establishes statewide standards for agriculture, thereby avoiding a patchwork quilt of local regulations all trying to do the same thing, but ultimately burdening the farmer beyond the breaking point.
As I have said more than once, any municipality in this Commonwealth that is obeying state law has no need to fear legislation like SB 1413. They simply have to just keep governing with honesty and integrity.
This all goes back to the irony I mentioned earlier. Society wants agriculture to remain viable, some for social and economic reasons, and some for environmental reasons. It’s why society has supported our efforts to preserve as much Pennsylvania farmland as possible. It’s why we are a leader in agricultural land preservation. But at the same time, we can’t be allowing a situation where we convince a farmer to deed an easement, and then tell him he can’t expand his operations to remain viable.
We need to overcome these games. We, in Pennsylvania agriculture, need to get involved and stay involved in the changing society we live in today. Certainly there will continue to be challenges ahead, and naysayers ahead, but Pennsylvania agriculture needs to be part of that changing society. Most importantly, our society needs to feel that Pennsylvania agriculture is an important and vital part of it. And it needs to feel that agriculture’s value goes way beyond just open spaces, it needs to feel that agriculture is important both socially and economically as well.
So the future of Pennsylvania agriculture suggests that we become actively involved and part of the solution. That includes being actively involved in water quality initiatives now underway in the Bay Program. It is vitally important to not only address impairment in the Bay and here at home, but to do so in a way that meets the needs of the Commonwealth. And we need to do that in a way that keeps agriculture as an important partner in the ever-changing society in which we live.
In an effort to provide wide-ranging views and perspectives regarding the practice of and issues surrounding agriculture, the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture (PSPA) seeks speakers representing a variety of perspectives. The statements and opinions they present are strictly their own and do not necessarily represent the views of PSPA.