Agribusiness Lobby Fights Against Clean Water

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Dan Kohler

Millions Spent on Campaign Contributions and Lobbying to Continue Polluting

Environment Washington

Seattle, WA — Big agribusiness interests are among the largest roadblocks to clean water in the United States, according to a new report by Environment Washington Research & Policy Center. The report, “Growing Influence: The Political Power of Agribusiness and the Fouling of America’s Waterways,” was released today.

“When Wall Street runs the farm, pollution runs off into our environment,” said Heather Shute from Environment Washington. “Giant agricultural companies are throwing around millions of dollars to fight 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 throughout the country. Too many of our nation’s 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 increase the likelihood that polluters will be able to contaminate intermittent waterways, isolated wetlands and sensitive headwaters 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. And these lobbyists 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 the EPA and other agencies from enforcing existing clean water laws and clean up efforts. Environment Washington reported on Washington’s congressional delegation’s 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, D.C. right now,” added Shute. “The time has come for public officials to resist the entrenched power of big agribusiness and implement strong measures.”


Environment Washington is a state-based, citizen-funded environmental advocacy organization working for clean air, clean water, and open space.

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