Chicken tax seems unlikely Levy not included in governor's plans to control Pfiesteria

'Makes us apprehensive'

Environmentalists want poultry industry to pay 'fair share'

January 14, 1998|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Heather Dewar contributed to this article.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening is giving short shrift to the politically unpopular idea of imposing a penny-a-pound tax on chicken to pay for anti-pollution programs, despite telling environmentalists their proposal is still on the table.

Frederick W. Puddester, secretary of budget and management, told Republican legislators yesterday that he has "never held a discussion with the governor on that issue."

Major F. Riddick Jr., the governor's chief of staff, confirmed that the administration is not seriously considering the tax as part of its program to control toxic outbreaks of Pfiesteria piscicida in Maryland waters.

Judi Scioli, Glendening's press secretary, said, "A tax is one way but certainly not the only way to require the poultry companies to share the burden." She said the governor has consistently stated that "it is vital for the poultry industry to pay their fair share, and his proposal will reflect that principle."

Environmentalist Thomas Grasso, Maryland executive director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said he plans to meet with Glendening today to push for "some contribution from the companies who raise the chickens."

Last month, a coalition of 10 environmental groups, including the foundation, proposed the tax -- which they prefer to call a "manure disposal surcharge" -- to create a fund to deal with the problem of disposing of excess chicken manure.

Scientists have tentatively identified the runoff of nutrients from farm fields as a contributing factor in toxic outbreaks of Pfiesteria and related organisms. Such outbreaks led the state to close three Maryland waterways last summer.

A gubernatorial task force concluded that manure from the Eastern Shore's chicken industry was a major contributor to the nutrient pollution problem.

Glendening and his senior staff have been working behind closed doors to put together a package of Pfiesteria-fighting proposals for the General Assembly session that starts today. But the governor does not intend to reveal details of the package until his State of the State address next week.

Grasso said environmentalists were told as recently as Monday that "there had been no decisions made" about the contents of Glendening's package, and that no options had been ruled out.

While legislative leaders dismissed the idea of a chicken tax as soon as it was proposed, the fact that the governor would not rule it out has caused uneasiness on the Eastern Shore.

"We're twisting in the wind," said Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, a Lower Shore Republican. "It makes us all very apprehensive."

L But Stoltzfus said he was reassured by Puddester's comments.

Sen. F. Vernon Boozer, the Senate minority leader, said Puddester "absolutely" would have been in on any discussions.

"There's not going to be any chicken tax -- come on," said the Baltimore County Republican.

Interviewed after the meeting, Puddester declined to elaborate on his statement. The governor's press office declined to comment on the content of the plan.

Gerard E. Evans, a lobbyist for Delmarva poultry producers, said the governor's refusal to rule out the tax immediately had sent a negative signal to the industry.

Under the environmental groups' proposal, a tax of at least a penny a pound would be imposed on each chicken raised in Maryland.

But Grasso said other alternatives would reduce nutrient runoff. Whatever approach Glendening takes, "We think the industry should be made to pay their fair share," he said.

Pub Date: 1/14/98

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