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Senate panel gives Shore farmers firm deadline to curb use of bay-fouling poultry manure

A Senate panel voted out a bill that would set a firm deadline for curbing Shore farmers' use of chicken manure to fertilize their fields.
A Senate panel voted out a bill that would set a firm deadline for curbing Shore farmers' use of chicken manure to fertilize their fields.

Not content with farm rules proposed by Gov. Larry Hogan, a Senate committee approved a bill Friday that would give Eastern Shore farmers a firm deadline to stop over-fertilizing their fields with chicken manure.

Scientists have warned that the widespread practice is contributing to pollution of the Chesapeake Bay. But farmers say the costs of replacing the inexpensive fertilizer produced by 570 million birds raised on the Shore would pose severe financial hardships.

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The Senate bill would require rules be adopted by next year limiting how much phosphorus-rich manure farmers could use to raise their crops. The limits would have to be fully enforced by 2022.

Hogan has proposed phasing in restrictions by 2022 as well. But his plan would put them on hold if farmers lack suitable alternatives for fertilizing their fields and disposing of the manure. Environmentalists have complained that's too open-ended for pollution curbs they contend are long overdue.

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The deadline measure cleared the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs panel by a 7-4 vote. It will go before the full Senate next week.

Introduced by Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, a Prince George's County Democrat, the bill originally tracked farm regulations adopted in the waning weeks of the O'Malley adminisration, which Hogan withdrew as soon as he took office. Hogan later unveiled "enhanced" rules he said would strike a balance between cleaning up the bay and ensuring farmers aren't hurt financially by the limits.

Pinsky said the committee pared down his bill to focus on the deadlines because Hogan's proposal otherwise tracked the O'Malley rules.  Pinsky said he wants to eliminate what he called an "off-ramp" in Hogan's plan that could lead to endless delay of the manure restrictions.

But Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said the administration stands by its proposed rules.

"As Governor Hogan has made clear many times, cleaning and protecting the bay cannot fall upon just one group of people," Mayer said. "It is a responsibility we all must share and share equally."

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