This Week’s Headlines
Agreement reached on Md. phosphorus regulations
By BRUCE HOTCHKISS
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (March 24, 2015) — A stripped down version of the phosphorous management regulations left on the table by the outgoing O’Malley administration which had drawn the scorn of the Maryland agriculture community, is being hailed by farmers and environmentalists alike.
A bill in the new legislature by Sen. Paul Pinsky which essentially recreated the O’Malley PMT regulations which Hogan had pulled off the table within hoiurs of his inauguration, did not make it out of committee in one piece.
A Senate committee, in the process of removing major aspects of the PMT bill, voted to establish deadlines for fertilizer regulations — an issue of concern for both farmers and for environmentalists who are concerned about pollution.
Pinsky said the stripped-down legislation is intended to set a hard deadline while also giving Gov. Larry Hogan the flexibility he needs for his administration to work out a plan to cut phosphorous pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.
“All this bill does, it actually gives them flexibility. I’m not telling them step by step what to do,” he said.
In late February, Hogan introduced his Maryland Agriculture Phosphorous Initiative, which he said built on his predecessor O’Malley’s proposed regulations, but pushed back the seven-year implementation schedule by one year.
Farmers had expressed concern that the proposed regulations could put them out of business by limiting or eliminating their use of poultry litter as fertilizer.
Environmentalists stress that the phosphorous in the litter causes algae blooms in the Bay, which harm aquatic plants and animals.
Hogan’s initiative would provide a tiered system for farms to build up the necessary infrastructure and resources to meet the phosphorous management requirements.
Republican members of the Senate committee bristled at the idea of putting pressure on the governor so soon in his term.
“This governor has been in office two months,” said Sen. Gail Bates of Carroll County. “We had eight years of the previous governor who dragged his feet, and I don’t recall any pressure.”
The Maryland Grain Producers Association, a leading voice in the protest of the O’Malley and Pinsky initiatives, applauded the compromise “laying out a process to ensure that the relief valve available to farmers if the infrastructure is not available is done systematically and with the best minds at the table.”
The revised Phosphorus Management Tool will provide an immediate action by Maryland’s grain farmers restricting any application of phosphorus to soils with a fertility index value above 500.
It will also require the reporting of the FIV level from all fields across the state on a six-year cycle.
“I believe that through this process, we have come together to establish a solid foundation to build upon in our efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay’, said Kevin Anderson, a Princess Anne grain farmer and immediate past president of MGPA.
“Our farmers stand committed to support efforts to ensure that poultry litter can move from farm fields that can no longer use additional phosphorus, to those farms where additional phosphorus is needed. We will provide support for alternative uses, particularly those that enable the phosphorus from poultry litter to be removed and the remaining product to be available for field application”, Anderson added.
Maryland Farm Bureau joined the chorus. In a statement, MFB President Chuck Fry expressed the organization’s delight in being “able to work with legislators on the enhanced language” of the proposed new PMT regulations.
“Our members appreciate how diligently the Governor listened to the agriculture community to improve Bay water quality while protecting the economic viability of farm businesses,” Fry said.
The Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation released a joint statement expressing pleasure that “the Hogan Administration has agreed to close a loophole in its proposed phosphorus regulations that could have allowed for delay after delay. Getting rid of this loophole will be a major accomplishment.”
The organizations said in a statement that they “would have liked to have begun using the Phosphorus Management Tool four years ago, as Maryland promised, and as the science dictated. Nevertheless, these revised regulations represent progress toward reducing pollution from agriculture — which we absolutely must do to protect the Chesapeake Bay and local waterways, as well as public health.”
Hogans’s office issued this statement. “The Hogan administration has worked closely with the agricultural and environmental communities as well as legislators to find a balanced plan for limiting phosphorus and we are pleased that all sides are on board with this approach. There has always been agreement on the problem: there’s too much phosphorous, nitrogen, and sediment entering the Chesapeake Bay.
“Now we have agreement on a solution that represents one of the most important steps forward in environmental policy in last decade. We thank all parties for their hard work on this critical issue.”
(Editor’s note: The Associated Press contributed to this article.)