MARYLAND UPDATE

from the Desk of Alison Prost Spring 2015
 

Agricultural and Urban/Suburban Polluted Runoff Update 

In the early part of this legislative session I must admit I felt pretty grumpy.  

CBF MD Executive Director Alison ProstCBF Maryland Executive Director Alison Prost. 

In one of his first actions after taking office, Governor Hogan canceled brand new environmental regulations put forth by the prior administration. Those rules would have stopped the spreading of excess manure on crop fields. 

We made no bones about our disappointment. Each year about 228,000 tons of excess manure are applied to fields of the Eastern Shore. The excess ends up in nearby creeks and rivers. It sparks algae blooms and eventually dead zones of low oxygen. The Choptank River and other Shore rivers are so badly fouled that swimming and shellfish harvesting in those waters are unsafe. 

The rules had been more than a decade in the making, first by scientific study, then by repeated political delays. And then in a blink they were gone. 

We at CBF have always made clear that we didn't blame farmers for spreading too much manure. They literally didn't know what was too much. They needed scientific guidelines that the long-delayed rules contain. No rule. No guidance.   

But you, concerned Marylanders, didn't let the story end there. Outraged as we were, you spoke up, in 15,000 e-mails and letters to the governor and to the legislature. 

Then, state Senator Paul Pinsky and Delegate Stephen Lafferty sponsored legislation to do what the now-shelved manure rules would have done.  

On the eve of legislative hearings on those bills, Governor Hogan announced his own alternative solution to the manure crisis—revised regulations. This was a good thing. The governor acknowledged the problem of excess manure. He also accepted the basic solution of the earlier regulations. But the governor's proposed regulations would have allowed repeated delays of the rules going into effect. CBF could not support that. 

But Governor Hogan was willing to listen to our concerns. And farmers themselves acknowledged the problem. They just wanted a practical solution that wouldn't put them out of business. 

In mid-March, Pinsky, Lafferty and the Hogan Administration reached a compromise—regulations that would ban excess manure on fields with the heaviest phosphorus saturation next fall and full implementation on all crop fields by 2022, or 2024 at the latest. 

It probably didn't hurt that a company appeared on the scene saying it could turn 200,000 tons excess manure into energy if the rules went into effect. The devil is in the details about this commercial proposal but if successful it could ease farmers' fears of being saddled with added costs to get rid of excess manure. 

As of this letter, we still don't know if we'll have the same success solving the continued problem of polluted runoff in urban and suburban areas. Governor Hogan proposed a repeal of the stormwater fee bill of 2012 that provided dedicated funding to local governments for this critical work. But Senate President Mike Miller is seeking a compromise. We'll update you in upcoming communications. Please stay tuned for a possible action alert on this issue coming soon! 

In the meantime, I'm convinced you made all the difference in getting a workable compromise on the Eastern Shore chicken poop crisis. Thank you.

 —Alison Prost
Maryland Executive Director
Chesapeake Bay Foundation

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