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Agribusiness Lobby Fights Against Clean Water

For Immediate Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Big agribusiness interests are among the largest roadblocks to clean water in the United States, according to a new report by Environment America. The report, “Growing Influence: The Political Power of Agribusiness and the Fouling of America’s Waterways,” released today, comes days after the U.S. House voted to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from moving forward with measures to protect America’s waterways from unlimited pollution. 

“When Wall Street runs the farm, pollution runs off into our environment,” said Piper Crowell, Clean Water Advocate for Environment America. “Giant agricultural companies are throwing around millions of dollars to continue polluting our rivers, lakes and oceans.”

The report included an analysis of campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures. The findings include:

  • Over the past decade, ten large agribusiness interests gave $35 million to congressional candidates – led by the American Farm Bureau, which gave $16 million.
  • Agribusiness interests gave more than $120 million to state-level candidates, party committees and ballot measures. 
  • From 2005 to 2010, the 10 leading agribusiness interests spent $127 million lobbying Congress and federal agencies, fielding 159 lobbyists in 2010. 
  • Monsanto and the American Farm Bureau led the pack, fielding 80 lobbyists in Washington, D.C., in 2010. 

Pollution from agriculture contributes to poor water quality here in Washington D.C. and throughout the country. The Chesapeake Bay and too many of our waterways are so polluted that they are unsafe for fishing or swimming, and cannot maintain healthy populations of wildlife.

The number of documented areas off America’s coasts where the oxygen is so low that most creatures cannot survive – often called “dead zones” – has increased from 12 in 1960 to 300 today. This includes the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, which covered an area roughly the size of New Jersey in 2008. 

The report examined cases in which the agribusiness lobby used its political power to stand in the way of clean water. For example, agribusiness interests blocked a 2010 effort to restore Clean Water Act protections to all American waterways. Their efforts increased the likelihood that polluters will be able to contaminate intermittent waterways, isolated wetlands and sensitive headwater streams with impunity. 

Agribusiness lobbyists also derailed federal legislation to restore the Chesapeake Bay in 2010. The bill would have required all polluters to do their share to restore the ecologically imperiled bay to health, while also providing billions of dollars in funds for bay cleanup. These lobbyists also backed legislation that would prevent the EPA from closing a long-standing loophole in its regulation of pesticide discharges to waterways – even though the regulation does not apply to the use of pesticides on crops.

A funding bill that was voted on last week in the U.S. House included amendments restricting government agencies from enforcing existing clean water laws and clean up efforts. Environment America reported on votes on current efforts in Congress to roll back environmental protections. The group also urged elected officials to do more to encourage sustainable farming practices.

“Our basic environmental protections are on the chopping block in Washington right now,” said Crowell. “We are disappointed by those who voted for dirty water by voting for the House funding bill that would bar EPA from restoring Clean Water Act protection to the streams that feed the Chesapeake Bay and our drinking water, and now look to the U.S. Senate to defeat this polluting funding bill.”

“On the other hand, 195 members of Congress, including Congressman Jim Moran and Congressman Chris Van Hollen, voted against stripping EPA’s ability to implement a pollution reduction plan for the Chesapeake Bay -- less than 50 miles from the capital -- and we applaud them for standing up to agribusiness lobbyists,” concluded Crowell.