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Hogan moves quickly to block controversial environmental regulations

Hold up: New governor moves quickly to block environmental regulations.

In one of his first acts after taking office Wednesday, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan withdrew a handful of regulations proposed in the final weeks of the previous Democratic administration.

One hotly contested proposal would have curbed Eastern Shore farmers' use of poultry manure on their fields. Another of the blocked regulations would have clamped down on smog-forming air pollution from coal-burning power plants.

Three other regulations dealt with medical care, but the new administration didn't provide more detail.

Hogan halted publication of the five regulations set to appear in the Maryland Register on Friday, preventing them from taking effect, said Erin Montgomery, the new governor's press secretary.

Montgomery said Hogan has ordered a comprehensive review of all pending regulations, opening them up for further "public input, public hearing and full due process" before they can be finalized.

"We're pretty much hitting the pause button at this point and allowing for full review," she said.

The farm regulation was aimed at helping clean up the Chesapeake Bay by restricting how much phosphorus-rich fertilizer farmers can apply to their fields. The rule mainly affects the Eastern Shore, preventing farmers there from spreading chicken manure on fields already saturated with the plant nutrient. Farm runoff is a leading source of bay pollution, feeding algae blooms and contributing to fish-suffocating "dead zones" in the water every summer.

But the poultry industry and farmers insist the rule would cripple the state's poultry industry, as well as many grain farmers deprived of a cheap source of fertilizer.

After a prolonged back and forth with the rule's opponents, Gov. Martin O'Malley moved forward with the proposal in mid-November, when it appeared there would be just enough time to put the regulation into effect before leaving office. His administration gave its final approval on Friday.

But regulations don't take effect until 10 days after they're published in the Maryland Register, which appears twice a month in print and online. Alerted by an attorney general's opinion to that legal wrinkle, Hogan acted with hours to spare to remove all the rules set to take effect.

Hogan had sided with farmers in the controversy, vowing after the election that his "first fight" as governor would be to stop the regulation. He also complained about more than 30 other regulations the O'Malley administration proposed after Election Day, vowing to review and possibly reverse them.

Environmentalists criticized Hogan's action, with the Clean Agriculture Coalition issuing a statement Wednesday evening saying he had "turned his back on clean water and sound science" by holding up the phosphorus regulation.

The air pollution rule also has been controversial. Environmentalists strongly backed the O'Malley administration's move to reduce coal plants' nitrogen oxide emissions, saying it would make Baltimore's and Washington's air healthier to breathe. But power companies have warned it could raise electricity costs and possibly even force the shutdown of some plants.

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