Sunday 19 May 2019

Maryland Senate Passes Agriculture Tracking and Improvement Bill

Bill would help implement the Phosphorus Management Tool, improve industrial agriculture permitting and reinstate Eastern Shore water quality monitors

ANNAPOLIS, MD – The Maryland Senate voted 32-15 today to approve SB 546, a bill that would give the state more information about agriculture practices, manure transport and water quality on the Eastern Shore. It would also change the discharge permitting process for constructing new industrial agriculture Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) to ensure more transparency and discontinue the decades-long waiver of permit fees. 

“We need to collect better data and ensure we are enforcing the laws we have to reduce pollution,” said Senator Paul Pinsky (D-22), lead sponsor of SB 546 and chairman of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee. “Most Maryland farmers are doing their part to protect waterways, but the fact is that agriculture remains the single, largest source of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay. We need to make sure the entire system is working effectively so we can protect clean water.”

Maryland has several laws on the books to help prevent pollution from agriculture, including the Phosphorus Management Tool (PMT) regulations passed in 2015 to stop overapplication of manure on farm fields. However, advocates say that progress to reduce pollution is hamstrung by a lack of useful data, as well as a dysfunctional permitting system.

“The Chesapeake Bay is showing signs of progress, but many threats remain,” said Betsy Nicholas, executive director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake. “The PMT and other nutrient management laws are our best chance to reduce pollution from agriculture to meet our Bay cleanup goals, so we must ensure we have the data we need to make these programs work effectively.”

SB 546 would help the industry utilize the PMT, improve the Department of Agriculture’s reporting of manure transport on current state forms and update the permitting timeline and fees for CAFOs.

The bill also would restore water quality monitoring at nine sites on the Eastern Shore which had been discontinued in 2013 due to budget cuts at the Department of Natural Resources.

“This region of the state has the highest soil phosphorus levels in the state, and it has a disproportionate impact on Bay water quality,” said Courtney Bernhardt, director of research at the Environmental Integrity Project. “We need monitoring data in this area so we can make informed decisions about the most effective policies to reduce pollution and protect our waterways.”

The bill now moves on to the House of Delegates. HB 904, the cross-file bill sponsored by Delegate Vaughn Stewart (D-19), has not yet moved to the House floor for a vote.

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The Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition is working to improve Maryland waterways and protect public health by reducing pollution, and increasing transparency and accountability, from agriculture and other associated sources of water degradation.

Its partners include: Anacostia Riverkeeper, Audubon Naturalist Society, Assateague Coastal Trust, Blue Water Baltimore, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Clean Water Action, Environmental Action Center, Environment Maryland, Environmental Integrity Project, Gunpowder Riverkeeper, League of Women Voters of Maryland, Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper, Maryland League of Conservation Voters, Potomac Riverkeeper, Rachel Carson Council, ShoreRivers, Sierra Club, Maryland Chapter and Waterkeepers Chesapeake.

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