Mixed Early Reviews On Governor’s PMT Proposal

BERLIN — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan this week announced his own “enhanced” version of a Phosphorous Management Tool (PMT), an initiative to limit the amount of chicken litter used as fertilizer on farms across the state, which is less onerous then that of his predecessor.

While few would argue with the need to eliminate pollutants from running off Maryland farms into the Chesapeake, former Gov. Martin O’Malley’s version was deemed too onerous for the state’s agricultural industry and the agrarian Eastern Shore.

Phosphorous in the right quantity is essential to healthy waterways such as the Chesapeake, but there is a fine balance between the right amount and too much. Phosphorous-laden chicken manure is spread on Maryland farms as fertilizer, but too much is leaching into the streams and tributaries to the bay, causing algae blooms that absorb dissolved oxygen and create “dead zones” where aquatic life cannot be sustained.

One of Hogan’s first orders of business when he took office earlier this year was to halt O’Malley’s planned PMT with the promise of introducing his own plan. That announcement came on Monday when the governor introduced his kinder, gentler PMT initiative.

“We have listened to the agricultural and environmental communities to find a fair and balanced plan for limiting phosphorous and I am pleased to announce the details of that solution today,” he said. “The enhanced phosphorous management tool regulations and the broader Agriculture Phosphorous Initiative will protect water quality in the Chesapeake Bay while still supporting a vibrant agriculture industry in Maryland.”

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Among Hogan’s four major “enhancements” is to ensure adequate time for farmers to fully understand and plan for the new requirements. The proposal shifts the seven-year implementation schedule originally proposed one year later to 2016 with full implementation by 2022. The Hogan plan will also attempt to assure agricultural producers that critical elements are available for implementation. For example, the state will evaluate key elements including markets to relocate additional amounts of manure, adequate infrastructure to handle and transport manure and an effort to develop alternative uses for manure.

The Hogan plan calls for an immediate ban on additional phosphorus on soils that test the highest and pose the greatest risks. For example, fields with a soil Fertility Index Value (FIV) of 500 or greater will be banned from receiving additional phosphorous-laden manure until the PMT is fully implemented. Finally, the plan calls for comprehensive information to be collected on farms statewide beginning in 2016.

Many applauded Hogan’s PMT plan for striking an apparent balance between the need to eliminate phosphorous from entering the bay and its tributaries and preserving a vibrant agricultural economy.

Delegate Mary Beth Carozza said this week the plan appears to accomplish both objectives.

“Governor Hogan’s Phosphorous Management Tool regulations take into account the concerns of both the agricultural and environmental communities and strikes a balanced approach for limiting phosphorous,” said Carozza. “Moving the PMT as a revised regulation is far more preferable than legislation that would be a severe financial hardship on our farm families. Governor Hogan’s PMT regulations give farmers more time and ensure that adequate infrastructure is in place before moving forward with implementation of the regulations.”

Upper Shore Delegate Steve Hershey said the O’Malley plan was based on false assumptions and went too far.

“Those proposals were short on data and long on theory,” said Hershey. “This proposal will gather necessary data to prove what works and what doesn’t work, so that we get it right. By requiring a 1,000-foot test site starting this spring, the administration has demonstrated that any long term strategies will depend first and foremost on good data.”

However, not all agree Hogan’s plan is the answer. Assateague Coastal Trust Executive Director and Coastkeeper Kathy Phillips this week said the Hogan plan falls short of accomplishing the goal.

“Governor Hogan’s proposed PMT regulation, which is fraught with delay mechanisms and loopholes, is an example of what happens when a polluting industry writes the regulations that are supposed to control it,” she said. “What we have on the Eastern Shore of Maryland is a massive waste management problem. For too long, the major poultry companies like Perdue and Tyson have been allowed to dump their untreated, polluted waste on our land and into our water. Under the guise of this waste being some kind of gift to the farming community, they also dump the accountability and responsibility for that waste on the farmer, a waste management system that is then heavily subsidized by the taxpayer and farmer.”

With the poultry industry growing on the shore, the phosphorous issue will only worsen, which is reason for a stronger PMT, according to Phillips.