Md. Lawmakers Pressured on Farm Pollution
By Peter S. Goodman
"I have told them I'm going to do what's necessary to protect the health of our citizens and the health of our Chesapeake Bay," Glendening (D) said in an interview yesterday. "If they don't make the right decision now, they'll have to make the decision when pfiesteria breaks out again, and if that happens to be in the middle of the summer, so be it."
The governor spoke shortly after a key Maryland Senate committee voted to approve his proposal for mandatory limits on how much fertilizer farmers may apply to their fields. Many scientists believe nutrients in fertilizers, especially animal manure, are washing off farms and into tributaries of the bay, where they fuel pfiesteria.
The Senate panel vote sets up what is likely to be a spirited fight with farming interests, which are fighting the bill in the House. Del. Ronald A. Guns (D-Cecil), chairman of the House Environmental Matters Committee, pledged yesterday to continue his long-running fight against farming regulations. He accused the governor of playing election-year politics with talk of a special session.
"He can't guarantee us anything's going to stop pfiesteria," Guns said. "Take his bill and put criminal penalties into it and crucify farmers on crosses, but that can't guarantee that pfiesteria's not going to break out next summer."
In Washington yesterday, the National Governors' Association formally endorsed a proposal made by Glendening, and co-sponsored by North Carolina Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. (D), that calls for a multi-state and federal effort to research and monitor pfiesteria and other toxic blooms.
Meanwhile, in Annapolis, the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee approved the governor's bill by a 7 to 4 vote. The committee made some changes but left largely intact the most significant and controversial feature of the bill: limits on how much fertilizer farmers may apply to their fields, with penalties of up to $2,500 a year for those who don't comply.
Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus (R-Somerset), a farmer and an ardent opponent of new regulations, has vowed to fight the bill when it reaches the Senate floor, but lawmakers predicted that the measure would ultimately win Senate approval.
The bill's prospects appear rougher in the House, where Guns has sponsored an initiative that would step up support for voluntary programs aimed at limiting farm pollution while steering clear of new mandates.
It looked briefly last week as if the combatants had fashioned a compromise that would preempt further legislative battles. On Wednesday, Guns began a committee meeting by publicly announcing that he had struck a deal with the governor: Farmers would accept mandatory limits on fertilizer, complete with penalties, provided the plan was ushered in more gradually than Glendening proposed.
The news delighted House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. (D-Allegany), who called it "a major step forward."
"When we walk out of here in April, if the farmers and the environmentalists are shaking hands with one another, the governor wins, the legislature wins and the Democratic Party wins," Taylor said in an interview.
But the governor's office called Guns's announcement premature, saying other issues still had to be resolved. And farmers were outraged by news of the compromise. They flooded the switchboard at the Maryland Farm Bureau, whose president, Stephen Weber, had offered tentative support for the deal.
On Thursday, Guns quickly disowned the compromise and said he would concentrate on getting his own bill through the House. He said a vote would be taken this morning.
While negotiations continue -- Guns spent part of yesterday behind closed doors with Glendening's chief lobbyist, Joseph C. Bryce -- the governor did not sound like a man about to bend.
"I just absolutely cannot, in good conscience, permit a voluntary program knowing that people are getting ill," he said.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company