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Federal Legislative Solutions to Agricultural Nonpoint Source Pollution

March 1996

Citation: 26 ELR 10128

Issue: 3

Author: David Zaring

Environmental regulation of pollution in the United States is often maligned as costly and ineffective. Pollution continues to plague and degrade the natural resources in the United States, and U.S. waters in particular. Nonpoint source pollution is currently the most significant source of water pollution, but it is also the most unregulated. While other discharges into U.S. waters have been dramatically reduced since the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA) was enacted, nonpoint source pollution—caused most by runoff from agricultural operations—has increased. Furthermore, the dangers of nonpoint source pollution are significant and well-documented. This Dialogue examines why the federal government has not enacted and enforced strong antipollution measures against agricultural emissions into water. After considering the dangers of nonpoint source pollution generally and agricultural nonpoint pollution in particular, this Dialogue analyzes FWPCA provisions that address nonpoint pollution and evaluates their efficacy. Next, this Dialogue evaluates potential legislative solutions to nonpoint source pollution, including H.R. 961, a series of FWPCA amendments the U.S. House of Representatives of the 104th Congress passed in 1995. This Dialogue explains why Congress has not implemented potentially effective alternative solutions—such as pollution taxes on farmers or strengthening minimum federal standards—and why Congress may indeed pass a probably ineffective solution.

Mr. Zaring is a graduate of Swarthmore College (B.A. 1992) and a student at Harvard Law School (J.D. expected 1996). The author thanks Judith Rosenberg for her advice and criticism, and Bruce Hay and Ricardo Revesz for their guidance.

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