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Gov. Larry Hogan plans to announce an "enhanced" version of environmental rules developed by his Democratic predecessor. The rules would limit farmers' use of phosphorus-rich animal manure as fertilizer.
Gov. Larry Hogan plans to announce an "enhanced" version of environmental rules developed by his Democratic predecessor. The rules would limit farmers' use of phosphorus-rich animal manure as fertilizer. (File photo)

Just a few weeks after blocking farm pollution rules finalized by his predecessor, Gov. Larry Hogan is unveiling his own proposal to limit poultry manure runoff fouling the Chesapeake Bay.

Hogan has scheduled a 4:30 p.m. press conference today (Monday) in the State House to announce "enhanced" regulations of Eastern Shore farmers' use of phosphorus-rich poultry manure to fertilize their crops.

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The rules will be part of a "Maryland Agriculture Phosphorus Initiative" that the governor also plans to outline, according to a media advisory announcing the press conference.

Within hours of being sworn in last month, Hogan promptly pulled back "Phosphorus Management Tool" regulations approved by O'Malley that were vehemently opposed by the poultry industry and many Eastern Shore farmers.

The rules would limit the spreading of phosphorus-rich animal and poultry manure on soils that already contain high levels of the nutrient, which is partly responsible for polluting the bay and its tributaries.

Farm runoff is a leading source of bay pollution, and scientists have highlighted a problem with the widespread use on the Shore of poultry manure as fertilizer. O'Malley administration officials estimated that 228,000 tons of poultry manure now spread annually would no longer be allowed on fields saturated with phosphorus. Many of those fields are on the lower Shore, where the state's poultry industry is concentrated.

Environmentalists backed the O'Malley rules, which would have phased in restrictions over six years. But poultry and farm groups opposed them, contending that the industry and many farmers would be put out of business by the costs of manure disposal and of buying replacement fertilizer. A Salisbury University study estimated the overall cost to the region at $22.5 million, even with millions in additional state subsidies for farmers.

Hogan's announcement comes a day before a Senate committee is to hear a bill that would put into law the O'Malley rules that the governor blocked.  The bill is sponsored by Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, a Prince George's County Democrat.  Del. Kumar P. Barve, a Montgomery County Democrat who is chairman of a key House committee, also has said he may put in legislation to codify the rules.

Hogan's move also comes shortly after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reminded the Hogan administration that federal officials are expecting Maryland to follow through with the O'Malley rules - or come up with something else to curb runoff of phosphorus from farm fields.

Shawn Garvin, EPA's mid-Atlantic regional administrator wrote the following Feb. 13 to Benjamin H. Grumbles, Hogan's nominee for secretary of the environment:

"In the event PMT regulations are not implemented or are further delayed, I will need to discuss with you the alternate approaches and/or additional measures the state of Maryland plans to take to ensure Maryland has the programs and funding in place to support farmers in properly managing phosphorus on agricultural lands based on the latest science."

Agriculture Secretary Joseph Bartenfelder declined to provide specifics, but said, "I would think the environmental community would be really pleased" with the proposal. He predicted that some farmers would still be displeased.

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