Environmentally concerned lawmakers in Annapolis are moving to legislate farm pollution restrictions withdrawn by Gov. Larry Hogan.
Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, a Prince George's County Democrat, said he's introducing a bill Wednesday to keep Eastern Shore farmers from spreading phosphorus-rich poultry manure on fields already saturated with the polluting nutrient.
Pinsky, one of the General Assembly's leading environmental advocates, said he's seeking legislative action in the absence of any word from the Hogan administration on how — or if — it intends to tackle the problem.
"We've got to move this ship out of port," Pinsky said Tuesday. "The bay's not getting any cleaner."
Farm runoff is a leading source of the phosphorus contributing to the algae blooms and dead zones ailing the bay, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Phosphorus levels are high, and worsening, in Eastern Shore rivers, where poultry manure is widely used to fertilize crops.
Guided by environmental scientists and agricultural experts, the O'Malley administration drew up rules requiring use of a "phosphorus management tool" to limit or even prohibit further applications of manure fertilizer on fields already saturated with the plant nutrient.
But many Shore farmers objected, saying they couldn't bear the costs of having to dispose of more than 200,000 tons of excess poultry manure — and of having to purchase more expensive but less polluting chemical fertilizer instead.
A study done by Salisbury University projected that phasing in the phosphorus restrictions over six years would cost farmers $22.5 million, even with the state increasing farm subsidies by $15.5 million to ease the transition.
Pinsky said he's sympathetic to the plight of the Shore's farmers, but says something must be done to help the bay.
"This bill is not to hurt farmers," Pinsky said. "It's to clean the environment."
Del. Kumar P. Barve, chairman of the House Environment and Transportation Committee, also has signaled his willingness to seek legislation on farm phosphorus. The Montgomery County Democrat recently wrote Hogan asking the governor to outline his plans for dealing with it, and to join in meetings with concerned lawmakers to work out a solution.
Pinsky's bill comes on the day Hogan is expected to lay out his legislative agenda in his first "State of the State" address to the General Assembly. While running for governor, Hogan had acknowledged that phosphorus pollution was a problem, but said he believed the rules would harm Shore farmers and the state's poultry industry.