Farm regulation "certainty" debated

Proponents say bill would speed Chesapeake Bay cleanup; critics decry secrecy

April 02, 2013|Tim Wheeler

Supporters and critics of legislation that would grant farmers a 10-year reprieve from new environmental regulations squared off before a House committee Tuesday, with much of the debate focused on provisions in the bill barring any public disclosure of those granted the deferral.

Farm group representatives, O'Malley administration officials and others told members of the House Environmental Matters Committee that offering state farmers a shield from new environmental cleanup requirements could boost efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.  Farmers would voluntarily agree to reduce polluted runoff of soil and fertilizer from their farms beyond what they're now required to do, proponents say.

Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, the bill's chief sponsor, said many farmers are having to invest in new equipment and facilities now to comply with recently adopted state regulations on how, when and where fertilizer can be spread on the ground. The Charles County Democrat, himself a farmer, said growers "have to have some certainty" that they won't be asked again in a few years to make even more costly changes in their operations.

Valerie Connelly, lobbyist for the Maryland Farm Bureau, pointed out that a Frederick County dairy farmer is having to double his storage of cattle waste because of the rules, which will bar wintertime spreading of manure.  She said he needs assurance when he borrows hundreds of thousands of dollars for that project that he won't be required to do any more soon.

Maryland Agriculture Secretary

But representatives of most of the state's environmental groups criticized the bill, which already has passed the Senate, as seriously flawed, focusing in particular on confidentiality provisions that would forbid identifying even what farmers have qualified for the reprieve.  They appealed to the House Environmental Matters Committee to hold the measure up for summer study.

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