Saying runoff from dairy farms owned by Pennsylvania’s storied Amish is polluting the Chesapeake Bay, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is demanding that the Amish change their centuries-old ways of farming.
The Obama administration is cracking down on farms in states where agricultural runoff contributes to the buildup of nitrogen and phosphorus in the bay. States in EPA’s bull’s eye include Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania.. According to EPA data, Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County, home to the nation’s largest Amish community, generates more pounds of manure than any other county on the agency’s list of bay polluters.
EPA’s latest effort to cleanup the bay has already met with stiff resistance among landowners in the affected states. While sympathetic to the notion of improving the environmental quality of the Chesapeake Bay, farmers and other landowners fear that EPA’s plan will result in a bureaucratic nightmare that will undermine the economic viability of rural communities.
The Amish pose a special problem. Heavily concentrated in Lancaster County in southeastern Pennsylvania, about 30 miles west of Philadelphia, the Amish, it can fairly be said, do things their own way. Descendents of deeply religious German-speaking people who settled in Pennsylvania beginning in the early 18th century, the Amish shun the outside world. Modern conveniences such as high-voltage electricity, labor-saving appliances and devices, and other amenities are largely absent from their lives. Instead of cars and pickup trucks, Amish farmers and artisans prefer the horse and buggy for their transportation. Amish keep contact with outsiders to a bare minimum.
This is the world EPA seeks to change. Agency officials are fanning out across Lancaster County, bringing Washington’s ideas of environmental stewardship to the locals. “We are supposed to be stewards of the land,” Mathew Stoltzfus, a 34-year-old father of seven, told the New York Times (June 6). “It is our Christian duty.”
Resolving EPA’s and the Amish’s views of stewardship will not be easy. EPA wants to reduce runoff from manure produced by thousands of dairy cows on Amish land. The agency’s goal is to have farmers install fences and buffers that will keep cows away from rivers that feed into the bay. EPA is even prepared to supply grants to cover the costs. But government assistance, including grants and subsidies, is among the things the Amish shun. The grants EPA wants the Amish to apply for would pay for the fences and buffers as well as for manure pits where the excrement from cows can be stored.
Currently, EPA is working with state and local officials to get the Amish to change their ways, or at least some of them. And if the Amish continue to do business as usual, EPA has made it clear that it’s not ruling out imposing penalties and fines.
The Chesapeake Bay is the largest inlet in the Atlantic Coastal Plain of the eastern U.S. It stretches 193 miles from north to south and is 3 to 25 miles wide. The bay’s nutrient-rich waters support a variety of fish, shellfish, and other marine life. During the second half of the 20th century, residential and industrial development of the surrounding land led to significant pollution of the bay by sewage, industrial wastes, and sediments. Recent advancements in all manner of pollution-control technologies have brought about improvements in the bay’s water quality. EPA, however, is determined to tighten the screws even more, and that effort puts it on a collision course with the Amish.