Md. ag reps’ pleas to O’Malley appear to be in vain

Senior Editor

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Nov. 25, 2014) — As Gov. Martin O’Malley pondered his release of the controversial nutrient management regulations involving the management of phosphorus in farm soils in the state particularly on the Eastern Shore, he was met by a flurry of letters urging him to go slow.
Those pleas fell on the deaf ears of a Democratic politician seeking to say thanks to the environmental community for his eight years in office.
It has been O’Malley’s intention to sign the legislation implementing the Phosphorus Management Tool before the leaves office on Jan. 21.
It will then be up to Republican Gov.-elect Larry Hogan and a General Assembly to take it from there.
The urgent suggestions to O’Malley centered on slowing down the process to allow time to affirm that claims that implementing the PMT will help to restore the waters of the Chesapeake Bay, and that limiting the use of poultry litter as a fertilizing agent can be accomplished without forcing Lower Shore farmers into bankruptcy.
Chuck Fry, president of the Maryland Farm Bureau asked the governor “to refrain from moving forward with promulgating the Phosphorus Management Tool regulation.”
He noted that “as the economic analysis completed by Memo Diriker at Salisbury University shows, the least costly scenario still showed not only a cost to Eastern Shore farmers of $22.5 million but also a cost to Maryland taxpayers of $39 million over a six year PMT implementation process.”
“We believe,” Fry continued on behalf of the Farm Bureau, that “there is new and more accurate science along with more valuable processes available to address the nutrients in the Bay that need to be used. We believe that by implementing the PMT, you not only put an unbearable economic burden on the family farms in Maryland, but you also use valuable bay cleanup funding that might be better used for this new science and actually achieve Maryland’s 2025 water quality goals,” Fry said.
Farm groups claim the largest impact of the PMT dictates will fall on the state’s poultry farmers. The lion’s share of the phosphorus on their farm fields comes from chicken litter, the traditional fertilizer particularly on the Lower Shore.
Bill Satterfield, executive director of Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., filed a letter of concern with the governor, urging O’Malley “not to move forward” on the PMT implementation and noting that farmers already are doing more than their part in the Chesapeake Bay clean-up effort.
“There are no data indicating how much less phosphorus will enter the Bay through the use of the tool,” Satterfield wrote.
“Additionally, there are no data showing how the costs of preventing phosphorus movement to the Bay through the use of this tool compares on a per-pound or per-ton basis with other practices, such as septic system, wastewater treatment plants, or stormwater management upgrades.”
The DPI chief continued: “The economic analysis completed by Dr. Memo Diriker at Salisbury University shows there will be millions of dollars of expenses for the state’s farmers, but no indication of the off-setting environmental benefits. And those increased farmer costs could be even higher if some of the farm cost-share practices you and your government have supported disappear because of budget considerations.”
“Governor, our farmers are making progress ahead of schedule as shown by the most recent analysis from the Chesapeake Bay Program office. But as reported by the U.S. Geological Survey, water quality improvements due to better on-the-farm practices might not show up for years because of the slow movement of sub-surface water. Let’s allow the results of these earlier practices to show results before adding on another layer of mandates.”
The governor’s response to all of this? His office issued this statement:
“The proposed regulations are based on a risk, management and time-phased approach to incrementally change farm management to reflect the latest science in assessing risk of phosphorus loss from farm fields.
“A six year phase-in of the PMT allows more time for infrastructure development and farm operations planning. The incremental change will be more easily adopted by the farm community and will help spread incremental costs, both public and private, over a longer time frame. The new proposal reflects input resulting from extensive discussions with stakeholder groups to help identify the best way to move forward.”
And O’Malley followed with this comment: “We’re focused on results and doing what works, and we know that animal waste is the most significant phosphorus pollution source harming the Chesapeake Bay and rivers on the Eastern Shore. So we’re moving forward with tools — endorsed by scientists and experts across the state — that will play a key role in restoring the health of the bay. This common sense action will be phased-in slowly over six years to ensure a manageable transition for our agriculture industry. We will continue working with Maryland’s farm community to ensure they have everything they need to continue moving forward successfully in Maryland.”