As one of his first acts in office, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) halted implementation of new regulations that would limit the amount of chicken manure that farmers can spread on their fields as fertilizer — angering environmentalists and prompting lawmakers to propose legislation that would force the new rules into place.
One such bill will be the focus of a state Senate committee hearing scheduled for next week.
On Thursday, however, an aide to Hogan said the governor plans to unveil a revised version of the regulations Monday — a day before the Senate hearing.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the regulations are still being finalized, said the governor’s rules will “balance the needs of the environmental and agriculture communities while also delivering immediate action to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.”
Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s) has said that he will pull the bill he submitted if the governor releases regulations comparable to those proposed late last year by then-governor Martin O’Malley (D).
Maryland’s Eastern Shore is home to numerous chicken farms that produce tons of manure, which farmers use as fertilizer. But the manure contains phosphorus, a nutrient that can wash into local waterways and make its way to the Chesapeake Bay, where it has been blamed for creating oxygen-deprived “dead zones.” Hogan has said that phosphorus pollution in the bay is a problem, although he has yet to detail how he plans to reduce its presence.
“No one disagrees that it’s a major problem,” Pinsky said. “For us to cast a blind eye and say, ‘It’s not a problem,’ or ‘Yeah, it’s a problem, but let’s talk about it some more,’ is not taking responsibility.”
Under the originally proposed regulations, farms that are already saturated with phosphorus — especially those close to a stream or body of water — would probably have to reduce manure use or stop using it entirely.
Farmers say that would force them to purchase alternative fertilizer that is more expensive, along with new machinery needed to spread it. And, they say, what will chicken farmers do with all of that manure?
Environmental groups were alarmed when Hogan halted the new manure regulations on his first day in office — and then, a couple of weeks later, called for the repeal of mandated storm-water management fees that fund cleaning pollution from rainwater before it reaches the Chesapeake Bay. Their chief criticism has been that the governor put forth no alternative plans.
Hogan has promised that his plan for restoring the bay is in the works, and he boasted at a news conference last week: “I’m going to be the best environmental governor that’s ever served.”