Bay runoff measure criticized Winegrad plan called coercive

March 05, 1993|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Staff Writer

A bill that would force farmers to reduce nutrient pollution of Chesapeake Bay was strongly opposed by the Schaefer administration yesterday.

The administration definitely wants to reduce pollution -- but believes that current voluntary programs can achieve it, said David A. C. Carroll, coordinator of the Governor's Council on the Chesapeake Bay.

"This bill would make it a matter of coercion rather than cooperation," he said.

Mr. Carroll spoke at a hearing in Annapolis on a bill sponsored by Sen. Gerald W. Winegrad, an Anne Arundel Democrat considered one of the Senate's leading environmentalists.

Mr. Winegrad favors a system of mandatory anti-pollution measures tailored to each farm, as a way to limit the runoff of nitrogen and other nutrients, considered the bay's most damaging pollutants.

Such plans, called Best Management Systems, include a nutrient-management section that details practices to reduce the amount of fertilizer used by farmers, and spells out techniques to limit run- off into surface and ground water.

Under Senate Bill 624, all farms getting easements or cost-sharing money from the Maryland Department of Agriculture would have to implement such a plan.

By 1999, all farms with a large number of animals or that apply animal manure to crops would also have to comply.

Another Winegrad proposal, Senate Bill 568, would finance this program with what would essentially be a 2 percent sales tax on pesticides and fertilizers.

In his testimony before the Senate's Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee yesterday, Mr. Winegrad said that extensive work on cleaning up the state's sewage treatment plants ("the best in the nation") had now made farms the biggest source of nutrient pollution flowing into the bay.

"This bill does not set up some rigid plan for all farms," he said, praising current efforts by the Department of Agriculture to design individual plans.

"What it does is give that program a kick start, puts it in gear," he said.

Mr. Winegrad said the program of voluntary compliance has produced meager results; only 10 percent of the state's farmland currently comes under nutrient-management plans.

Anticipating opposition from the agricultural industry, Mr. Winegrad noted that a similar measure had received the approval of one house of the Pennsylvania legislature.

Pennsylvania legislators let the bill die late last year, but the measure is given a fighting chance this year.

"They are doing this even though we benefit much more from the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland than Pennsylvania does," Mr. Winegrad said. "The whole nation is watching to see if we can successfully clean up this major estuary in a multistate effort."

He argued that farmers should come under the same sort of pollution controls imposed on municipalities for their sewage treatment and on industry for its discharges.

"With the price of fertilizer as high as it is, it won't cost farmers to implement these plans -- it will save them mony," he said.

But Mr. Carroll, of the bay council, said that economic incentives built into the current program will encourage farmers to sign up on a voluntary basis.

He presented figures showing that 18 percent of the state's farms now have plans, though the Department of Agriculture has been emphasizing them only since 1989.

"There's no question . . . we are going to [get compliance by farmers]," Mr. Carroll said. "It's a question of how we are going to do it. We know it has to be done and we are making great progress."

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