Letters To The Editor

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

January 11, 2004

Taxing farmers is wrong way to clean the bay

Jeffrey Michael asks why the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is focused so narrowly on sewage and not agriculture. He wonders, too, whether taxing farmers could help the bay ("Make all polluters pay," Opinion

Commentary, Jan. 5).

Our sewage focus stems from a clear conclusion that it offers the most promising near-term results for saving the bay. Federal law already requires a reduction in pollution from sewage treatment plants. This is doable and affordable with existing technologies, and it creates jobs. It is an obvious first step that could reduce pollution sharply.

Bold action to reduce agricultural pollution is also needed to save the bay. But Mr. Michael's suggestion that we tax cash-strapped farmers is not the best way to generate revenue for pollution control. We'll need a broader mix of policy tools to achieve results.

But Mr. Michael is absolutely right that our region must re-evaluate how we implement the "polluter pays" principle to protect the Chesapeake. That is only fair. More important, it can help us succeed in saving the bay.

Kim Coble

Annapolis

The writer is Maryland executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Farmers are doing their part for bay

In his column "Make all polluters pay" (Opinion

Commentary, Jan. 5), Jeffrey Michael expresses one opinion among many about how to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay. However, the agriculture industry is doing its part to improve water quality in the bay and its tributaries. And I know that the state is on the right course with managing nutrients on farm operations and upgrading wastewater treatment plants.

Currently, 82 percent of the 1.6 million acres of Maryland agricultural land is in compliance with the Water Quality Improvement Act of 1998.

The nutrient management law - and it is mandatory, not voluntary, as Mr. Michael suggested - requires farmers to apply nitrogen and phosphorus in accordance with the results of soil tests on specific parcels of land and the nutrient needs of a specific crop being planted on that land.

Over the last five years, farmers have installed more than 54,000 acres of streamside buffers, and in 2003 alone they implemented an additional 5,700 best management practices (BMPs) to reduce soil erosion and nutrient runoff into waterways.

Although public funds help pay for some of these BMPs, on average, Maryland farmers have invested more than $1 million per year to install them. And farmers pay a substantial cost to install, operate and maintain these best management practices.

But high compliance rates among farmers and installation of effective conservation practices on farms does not mean that more can not and is not being done.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is committed to making the nutrient management law more workable for farmers and more effective at protecting water quality. Efforts he has initiated have resulted in administrative streamlining and proposed legislative changes that are supported by both agricultural and environmental constituencies.

Lewis R. Riley

Annapolis

The writer is secretary of Maryland's Department of Agriculture.

Star makes mockery of marital sanctity

Self-absorbed pop star Britney Spears marries a hometown friend in a gaudy Las Vegas wedding chapel, changes her mind, and has her lawyers annul the marriage after 55 hours ("Spears marries an old friend for a few hours," Jan. 5).

Meanwhile, committed gays and lesbians in serious relationships cannot legally marry in this country because, according to the religious right, same-sex marriage threatens and mocks the institution of marriage.

Where is the religious right's outrage over Ms. Spears' cavalier treatment of marriage?

Robert T. Hoehn

Baltimore

Toll lanes are just one more tax hike

After reading Jay Hancock's column about construction of pay-as-you-go toll lanes on the area beltways, it seems that I and my average Joe peers are being held responsible for the gridlock on the highway system ("Let special toll lanes whisk us out of gridlock," Jan. 4).

That's a fair enough assertion. But what has me dumbfounded is Mr. Hancock's proposed solution: to penalize the average guy by building lanes that are usable only if you pay for them.

In 2003, my real estate taxes increased, my sewer and water bill increased, my homeowners insurance bill increased and the tolls on Interstate 95 were raised. Oh, and by the way, I haven't received a raise in 28 months.

Mr. Hancock's answer is another tax to build additional infrastructure to keep up with the expanding population. But isn't that the purpose of all these other taxes I pay?

John Craig

Elkridge

Use toll revenues to improve transit

Having read in The Sun about the proposal to have high-occupancy toll lanes on the beltways and other high-traffic commuter highways, I have mixed emotions ("Let special toll lanes whisk us out of gridlock," Jan. 4).

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