Farm runoff curbs sought Governor will unveil plans in address today

January 21, 1998|By Heather Dewar and Michael Dresser | Heather Dewar and Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Thomas W. Waldron contributed to this article.

In a move likely to delight environmentalists and dismay farmers, Gov. Parris N. Glendening begins today a push to impose controls on farm runoff into the Chesapeake Bay.

Glendening plans to announce the proposed curbs today in his State of the State address. The measures are intended to prevent outbreaks of Pfiesteria piscicida and other toxic microorganisms. Environmentalists who were briefed about the proposal yesterday said it would include the first mandatory farm-by-farm controls on nutrients coming from fertilizer and animal manure.

But even as the governor's staff was working last night to complete the proposal, legislative leaders were warning that the governor would have to make significant compromises to get a bill passed.

"What the governor's going to want is far too stringent for the farmers and [chicken] producers," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Democrat from the semirural southern part of Prince George's County. As of last evening, Miller said he had not been briefed on details.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. said he had heard indications that the program might be "too green."

"I would hope that all of us would look to the center for middle ground," said Taylor.

During a news conference yesterday, Glendening said his plan would be "aggressive, comprehensive and fair."

Joseph C. Bryce, the governor's legislative director, said the bill would not be finished until early next week.

One element of the plan apparently has been set: Farmers would have to devise plans to cut the flow of nutrients into the bay by 2000, and put them into effect by 2002. They would face penalties if they don't meet the deadlines, the environmentalists said.

Glendening's deadlines are the same ones recommended in November by a citizens' task force, which found a high likelihood -- but no absolute proof -- that controlling the runoff of fertilizer ingredients from the soil of the Lower Eastern Shore would reduce the odds of more outbreaks of Pfiesteria and similar microorganisms.

The task force, appointed by Glendening and chaired by former Maryland Gov. Harry R. Hughes, found that nutrient contamination creates an ideal environment for sudden explosions of the tiny, toxic microorganisms that killed fish and sickened people in the Pocomoke River and other Lower Shore waterways last summer.

The administration also wants to place new controls on other major sources of nutrients, including sewage plants, and heavy fertilizer users such as golf courses and landscaping services. Controls on leaking septic tanks might also be included, although those would be the most technically difficult standards to implement, and the least popular with voters.

Glendening "endorsed a strategy that would go far beyond agriculture," said Will Baker, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

In each case, "We were led to believe there would be the force of law behind it," Baker said.

Lobbyists for and against the new controls agreed it was clear the brunt of the cleanup work would fall on agriculture, especially on the poultry industry on the Lower Shore, where poultry outnumber people by about 500 to 1.

Until now, the task of getting rid of the chicken manure widely used as fertilizer on the Lower Shore has fallen to individual growers who raise the chickens under contract. Environmentalists want the big poultry companies to be held liable for at least part of the manure control. Industry spokesmen say they're willing to sponsor pilot programs for disposal.

"Are we as an industry going to be held completely responsible for every ounce of phosphorus in the water?" asked Gerard E. Evans, a lobbyist for the Delmarva Poultry Industry. "We are condemning the industry without the facts."

Evans, whose organization represents the region's five biggest chicken producers, said he has asked the administration for longer deadlines. "We need more time," said Evans, who has been talking daily with the governor's aides. "But I don't think we're going to get more time."

The question of whether to hold the big chicken producers responsible for part of the cleanup was the main issue Glendening and his staff had not resolved last night, Baker said.

Pub Date: 1/21/98

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