Tuesday 26 March 2019

Nutrient Management Plans (7)

Agriculture is the single, largest source of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay, and it contaminates local waterways. Maryland is working on solutions, but our progress is hamstrung by a lack of information and a dysfunctional permitting system. Agriculture Tracking and Improvement Act (SB 546/HB 904) would help Maryland get information currently lacking about agriculture practices, manure transport and water quality on the Eastern Shore, and it would improve transparency and fairness in the State’s industrial agriculture permitting program.     Specifically, the bill would: help the agriculture industry comply with the state’s regulation to reduce the use of phosphorous (known as the Phosphorous Management Tool); create a voluntary system to track manure transport and land application by private companies; update the permitting timeline and fees for industrial poultry operations (know as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or CAFOs); reinstate water quality monitoring stations on the Lower Eastern Shore. Take Action and send an email to your Maryland representatives to urge them to vote YES on SB546/HB904. All sectors of our state --  business, cities, agriculture, residents – need to do their fair share to reduce pollution in our local waterways and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay. Click here for more information about the bill.
Marylanders expect transparent government. This transparency is essential across all sectors of government and industry, including agricultural waste management. Without access to this information, local communities and citizens cannot be assured that these operations are not polluting the water that Marylanders rely on for drinking, swimming and fishing. That’s why Waterkeepers Chesapeake along with Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition (MCAC) are supporting legislation to address a significant loophole in current law that makes it impossible to obtain access to public records through a Public Information Act request if those records are held by agricultural operations. Maryland’s agriculture industry is afforded a level of secrecy that no other industry in our state enjoys, despite being heavily subsidized. Closing this loophole is critical to advancing transparency in the state, as well as to cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay. As currently written, Agric. § 8-801.1, a provision of the Maryland Water Quality Improvement Act, requires most farms to follow Nutrient Management Plans (NMPs) and annually submit a plan summary to the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA). These plans are not written by the farmers themselves, but with the support of professional planners who are paid for with our public dollars. Current law requires MDA to “maintain a copy of each summary for 3 years in a manner that protects the identity of the individual for whom the nutrient management plan was prepared.” Although this provision seems to only affect MDA’s disclosure of identifying information, such as the owner’s name and unique plan ID number, from the plan summaries…
Environmental advocates have been working to update Maryland's 45-year old Public Information Act through state legislation ("Senate OKs rewrite of public information law," March 24). There is certainly plenty of room for improvement -- Maryland received an "F" in government transparency from the State Integrity Project. The new legislation creates better oversight, tightens timelines to respond to public information requests and requires proper justification for denials.   Clean water and clean air advocates have been stymied when requesting information from state or local governments -- but we're not the only ones.   I testified in support of this legislation alongside newspaper editors, government watchdog groups, social justice organizations and private citizens. The only organizations that testified publicly in opposition to the bill were the Maryland Farm Bureau and the Maryland Grain Producers. Why do they oppose common sense reforms to Maryland's public information law?   The agriculture industry -- the largest polluter to the Chesapeake Bay -- receives special treatment under existing law. For instance, information about state-required pollution plans for many farms are kept secret, hidden from Maryland taxpayers, along with enforcement records for these farms. State governments invest millions of dollars to reduce pollution from farms and we deserve some level of accountability to ensure that funding is being well spent. Unfortunately, the powerful corporate agriculture lobby was successfully able to strip any provisions relating to agricultural transparency out of the legislation.   The amended legislation moving through the General Assembly is still critically important because it will…