Bill would help implement the Phosphorus Management Tool, improve industrial agriculture permitting and reinstate Eastern Shore water quality monitors
ANNAPOLIS, MD – The Maryland General Assembly gave final approval to SB 546, a bill that would give the state more information about agriculture practices, manure transport and water quality on the Eastern Shore, as well improve the permitting process for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). The bill now heads to Governor Hogan’s desk for his signature.
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, progress to reduce pollution is hamstrung by a lack of useful data, as well as a dysfunctional permitting system. Advocates say many aspects of the bill make improvements that the environmental community has been working on for years.
“Fixing the CAFO permitting process is a huge win for the Lower Eastern Shore,” said Kathy Phillips, Assateague Coastkeeper. “For years, these large, industrial chicken operations have been encroaching on people’s homes without ample notice. By requiring the fee and all permits to be in hand before construction can begin, Maryland is protecting both homeowners and clean water.”
The final bill, which included amendments agreed to by agricultural interests, will help the agriculture industry comply with the PMT, effectively enforce nutrient management plans and update current state reporting forms to track manure transport and land application through private transfers. It would also change the discharge permitting process for constructing new industrial CAFOs to ensure more transparency and discontinue the decades-long waiver of permit fees.
The bill also restores water quality monitoring at six sites on the Eastern Shore which had been discontinued in 2013 due to budget cuts at the Department of Natural Resources. Advocates say these stations are crucial to get accurate data about water pollution in a region that has the highest levels of phosphorus oversaturation in the state.
“Agriculture remains the single, largest source of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay,” said Betsy Nicholas, executive director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake and a co-chair of the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition. “Ensuring we have accurate data about the industry and local water quality will put Maryland in a better position to achieve our Bay cleanup goals.”