HARRISBURG - Lawyers representing farm groups and home builders asked a judge to block a federal plan to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, arguing that it tramples on state's rights and uses erroneous data to set pollution limits.
The American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Association of Home Builders were among the groups in federal court Thursday fighting against the bay's "pollution diet," which is designed to improve water quality and wildlife habitat.
Attorneys for the Environmental Protection Agency contended that without strong federal oversight and threat of sanctions, states had repeatedly missed their pollution-reduction goals over the past 30 years.
The sides sparred for more than four hours in court in Harrisburg, according to The Baltimore Sun. District Judge Sylvia H. Rambo did not say when she would rule.
The case could determine how water cleanup efforts proceed elsewhere nationwide, as federal officials have said they're considering similar plans for other degraded waterways.
Richard E. Schwartz, one of the industry groups' lawyers, said the EPA's Chesapeake plan generates an unprecedented amount of regulation for "intensely local and expensive decisions" that are best left to local communities.
"It will affect urban growth; it affects how agriculture land will be used," Schwartz said.
But Chesapeake Bay Foundation vice president Kim Coble said she feared that throwing out the plan "would set us back many decades" in trying to revive the body's water quality.
Clair Esbenshade, who raises crops and livestock on about 200 acres in central Pennsylvania, attended the hearing because he said it would affect livelihoods for generations to come.
Growers aren't getting proper credit for what they've already done to keep fertilizer and animal manure from washing into nearby streams and, ultimately, the bay, said Esbenshade.
"I don't see there's much more we can do," he added, "other than get out of business."