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New phosphorous rules not ready for prime time [Letter]

Before The Sun and its readers start hyperventilating about the Maryland Department of Agriculture's decision to delay (not abandon) the proposed Phosphorous Management Tool regulation, it is important to share some insights into this common-sense decision ("Phosphorous rules delayed," Nov. 22).

First, the department's actions are not rolling back any environmental protection program. Since 2005, farmers throughout the state have had state-mandated limits on the amount of phosphorus they can apply to their land, whether it is animal manure or commercial fertilizer. Interestingly, Maryland farmers are not even given credit for these improvements in the Environmental Protection Agency's Chesapeake Bay Model that is driving all water-quality programs in the state.

Many farmers, chicken growers, business owners, Eastern Shore county government officials and state legislators believe the proposed regulation, as drafted, would have serious financial implications throughout the state with negligible environmental improvements.

Granted, the MDA offered assistance to help farmers cope with the new system of fertilizer applications. But the offer was short on details and there was concern that more time was needed to make this drastic transition.

None of us were asking for a complete abandonment of the new tool. We simply were asking for more time to allow an orderly transition, to have alternative uses of manure in place and to give farmers time to adjust their business models.

When the groundbreaking Maryland Water Quality Improvement Act of 1998 was enacted, there was a multiyear transition period to allow adjustments to farming operations. We simply are asking for such a phase-in period for this new regulation.

I am especially disturbed by The Sun's insinuation that the state's decision to allow a phase-in was due to politics and Gov. Martin O'Malley's long time acquaintance with an attorney who works for Perdue Farms.

Such misguided allegations ignore the fact that more than 800 people attended two public briefings on the proposed regulation, and the only people who supported the rule were a few state employees. Similarly, nearly all of the 500 comments submitted during the 30-day public comment period were opposed to the proposed regulation.

When the state enacts a new regulation of such sweeping consequence, it needs to be well thought out, properly prepared and effective in improving water quality. The proposed regulation was not ready for enactment. We need to get things done right rather than just done soon.

Sen. Richard F. Colburn, Cambridge

The writer, a Republican, represents Caroline, Dorchester, Talbot and Wicomico counties in the Maryland Senate.

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Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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