Larry Hogan's opposition to proposed farm pollution regulations is welcome news for farmers, but before the governor-elect follows through with his pledge he should take time to learn about the implications and come up with an alternative plan.
Hogan told Maryland Farm Bureau members at their annual convention on Monday that he will fight regulations designed to reduce phosphorus running into the bay. According to a Dec. 8 story by Baltimore Sun reporter Timothy Wheeler, Hogan said "The first fight will be against these politically motivated, midnight-hour phosphorus management tool regulations that the outgoing administration is trying to force upon you in these closing days. We won't allow them to put you out of business, destroy your way of life, or decimate your entire industry."
Farmers going back to the Parris Glendening administration have complained about having to shoulder too much of the burden – and cost -- for cleaning up pollution. In some cases, their arguments have been heard. In others, they haven't. Wheeler's story referenced a Salisbury University study that projected the cost to grain farmers and chicken growers at $22.5 million over six years.
But the story also referenced a study by the Environmental Integrity Project which shows that "of the 62 farms that said they used manure to fertilize their own fields … three-fourths gave their crops three times the phosphorus they needed to grow."
Too much nitrogen and phosphorus are harmful to the bay. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation notes that nitrogen and phosphoris feed algal blooms that block sunlight to underwater grasses and suck up life-supporting oxygen when they die and decompose, leading to dead zones.
Given that we know the dangers posed by too many pollutants going into the bay, and studies show that some fields are getting far more fertilizer from manure than is necessary, cutting that level should be a priority in order to decrease pollution. How the state achieves that, and measures that it can put in place to lessen the impact on farmers, should be part of the discussions. But it would be ill-advised for our incoming governor to dump the proposed regulations, ignore science and risk reversing progress we've made in cleaning up the bay.