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Hogan's poultry manure regulations are full of holes

Gov. Larry Hogan's proposed regulations for controlling poultry manure pollution that is feeding fish-killing "dead zones" in the Chesapeake Bay are flawed by a loophole that may lead to endless delay in solving the problem ("Hogan proposes curbs on farm pollution," Feb. 23).

The poultry industry has praised the governor for his "fair and balanced" revision of the O'Malley administration's manure rules. But new language in the rules (not released until the day after Mr. Hogan's upbeat press conference) mandates that moving forward with the pollution control program is "contingent upon results of (an) evaluation" by the Maryland Department of Agriculture, whose primary job is to promote the state's agricultural industry, not protect the bay.

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As described in the governor's proposed regulations, this evaluation will determine whether there are adequate alternative markets for poultry manure (besides just dumping it on saturated Eastern Shore fields) and enough money to truck the manure to these other locations (such as waste-to-energy incinerators, which have not yet been built). If there's not enough money, or a working incinerator, the state's agricultural agency could put an indefinite hold on the manure application limits that are critical to cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.

The Hogan administration and its allies in the farm lobby argue the new language is necessary because the poultry industry needs "flexibility." But the version of the regulations killed by the governor last month already offered lots of flexibility — by allowing the rules to be phased in over six years, and by permitting farmers with saturated fields to avoid a ban on manure application if they plant fertilizer-absorbing cover crops, among other alternatives.

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Poultry producers may want "flexibility" now, but what the industry usually asks for is certainty — and certainty of cleanup is exactly what the Chesapeake Bay needs. Certainty is also what developers of alternative energy projects for manure also need. A far more certain approach toward restoring to health the heart of Maryland would be for the General Assembly to pass legislation (Senate Bill 257 or House Bill 381) that would put into law limits on poultry waste pollution, with no loopholes or more delays.

Tom Pelton, Baltimore

The writer is director of communications for the Environmental Integrity Project.

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