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Protection of Chesapeake Bay Requires Regulation of Agriculture

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State agriculture officials are alarmed about impending environmental regulations they say could close farms, drive up food prices and force Americans to buy more food from overseas.

Federal regulators who are trying to clean up the Chesapeake Bay are making the six states that send water to the bay come up with a plan to cut pollution.

Those measures, which are still being worked out by state regulators and the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection, could force potentially costly upgrades to water treatment systems, housing developments and farms across the bay area, which includes West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle.

State Department of Agriculture officials, echoing the concerns of the agriculture industry, fear much of the burden of the cleanup will fall on farmers already struggling with thin profit margins.

In recent weeks, officials have talked about the Chesapeake Bay cleanup and the federal oversight farms may face with same kind of dismay state politicians are using to drum up opposition to EPA's crackdown on mountaintop mining permits and Congress' plans to decrease greenhouse gas emissions.

"Our farm folks are being impacted just like our coal industry," Agriculture Commissioner Gus Douglass recently told lawmakers. 

State officials also worry that the EPA's plan for the Chesapeake Bay will be a template for cleanups in other regions of the country, including the grain-producing Midwest.

Supporters of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup have a far different take. They say reducing pollution and improving water quality will help, not hurt, food production. 

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