The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was criticized by Republicans and the ranking Democrat, Tim Holden, in a House Agriculture subcommittee hearing yesterday for using a flawed computer model to roll out phase II of the Chesapeake Bay water quality objectives.

EPA, in a August letter to the watershed states of Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia, outlined the planned reductions in Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment for certain localities, based on the computerized Chesapeake Bay watershed model.  In addition, EPA requested that state reports on draft reduction plans be submitted by December 15, 2011.  EPA’s stated goal is to have 65 percent of the localities implement the watershed plans by 2017 and have 100 percent compliance by 2025.

In his testimony, Shawn Garvin, EPA’s region 3 administrator, defended the computer model that EPA used to set the TMDL.  However, after repeated questions from committee members including inquiries on the impact of natural sediment deposits from storms and floods versus modern agriculture and the model’s ability to accurately record pollution levels in small-medium locales, Garvin admitted that the model was accurate on larger-scale readings, but not at the locality level.

Other testimonies from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Chesapeake Bay Commission, and the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, all warned of the flawed EPA TMDL model, citing its inaccuracies and their concerns for moving forward without a proper cost benefit analysis.

Ranking member Tim Holden (D-PA) expressed his concerns about whether EPA should push forward with an initiative that is riddled with agency imposed, “non-science-based” deadlines and includes flawed modeling assumptions that could cause further economic disadvantages to farmers.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Chairman Glenn Thompson (R-PA) expressed similar concerns that a cost benefit analysis has still yet to be completed and whether evidence shows there is enough science behind the tax dollars required to support this initiative. Rep. Goodlatte added that the bay restoration plan is going to cost Virginia alone more than $8 billion.

“We all want to implement a plan that furthers restoration of the Chesapeake Bay, however, it must be equitable.  It is problematic that we still do not have a cost-benefit analysis of this process nor a sound model for a baseline measurement under the current plan. Ultimately, we must be certain that the federal government is not executing the facets of this plan in a heavy-handed manner, which will place undue burden upon states and localities, during a time when we need fewer hindrances to economic growth and job creation, not more,” said Chairman Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (R-PA).

The committee will continue to oversee EPA’s actions in the Chesapeake Bay and will hold another hearing in early 2012 after EPA has completed its cost-benefit analysis of the Chesapeake Bay Total Daily Maximum Load.