By Lynne Finnerty, American Farm Bureau Federation

How would you feel if someone looked at your financial situation and not only told you that you needed to spend less, save more and lower your debt, but also dictated how and when you must do so. This person would hover over you, not allowing you to buy anything unless he or she approved the purchase.

Paying tuition to put your kid through college? Stop. You can’t afford it, no matter how important it may be to you and your family. You would be required to take a second job to make more money, even if it meant sacrificing other goals such as caring for an elderly parent. You would be forced to sell your home and rent a smaller one, even if it would not accommodate your needs.

While the changes might benefit your overall budget, they may not be the right solutions for you. If you’re like most people, you would welcome the advice, but you would prefer to make the tough decisions yourself, based on what works for you and your family.

State and local governments are in a similar situation to the one described above. The Environmental Protection Agency has told them that we need to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, and no one disagrees. In fact, states, counties and farmers are already doing a lot to reduce Bay pollution. But EPA didn’t stop at the “what.” It’s also dictating the “how” and “when.” The agency is implementing a Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan that strips states of their rights to make land-use decisions.

Want to bring in a factory for economic development and job creation? Want to build homes to accommodate the workers at that factory and create construction jobs? Sorry. And, oh yeah, you need to upgrade your wastewater treatment plant, even if it means raising taxes or having to divert funds from other programs the state has determined are more important to its citizens.

We all want clean water, but we still have to follow the law. The Clean Water Act, passed by Congress in 1974, gave the federal government the limited authority to set the “total” part of total maximum daily load water standards for interstate waters. It did not, however, give it the right to tell states and local governments how to meet those standards.

The American Farm Bureau Federation has appealed a court ruling that allows EPA to go forward with its Chesapeake Bay rules. Several counties in the Bay region and 21 state attorneys general have filed “friend of the court” briefs in support of Farm Bureau’s position. They know that if EPA gets away with usurping the Bay states’ rights to make the decisions that are best for their economies and citizens, the agency will do it again elsewhere.

Unfortunately, in cases like this, it’s easy to paint the picture as black and white – for or against the environment. The truth is rarely that simple.

We all want a clean Chesapeake Bay. This isn’t about the what. It’s about the how.

Lynne Finnerty is project management director for the American Farm Bureau Federation.  Written March 13, 2014.