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Letters to the Editor: Readers rebut letter critical of UM law clinic

Stephen Z. Meehan’s letter (“Dean’s departure is opportunity for reform at UM law clinic,” July 24) about the resignation of the highly-regarded dean of the University of Maryland law school was irresponsible and misleading. As a lawyer, I am ashamed that it was written by another member of my profession. On its face, it appears a continuation of the shameless, divisive public relations campaign waged by Perdue and its agribusiness allies that characterized the Environmental Law Clinic’s lawsuit as part of a “war on the family farmer.”

It was nothing of the sort. The lawyers and students in the clinic were engaged in a good faith representation of environmental groups whose goal was to hold Perdue and other “integrators” to account for the water pollution caused by farming practices that they effectively force on many of the farmers who raise their chickens and turkeys. Perdue’s grossly misleading PR campaign was part of their stubborn efforts to avoid all regulation.

Mr. Meehan’s letter fails to mention that, in a preliminary ruling in the case, the judge ruled that he was inclined to hold Perdue responsible for any violations of the Federal Clean Water Act by the poultry growers, who are effectively their franchisees. He also ignores that the evidence in the case showed that the ditches and streams near the farm that was the subject of the suit were heavily polluted with coliform bacteria, and that the owner of the farm, with the assistance of his lawyers, had manipulated the nutrient management plan he was legally required to follow.

Perdue’s divisive PR campaign has created a deep and needless rift between the environmental agricultural communities on the Eastern Shore, including the many responsible farmers who care about the health of the Chesapeake Bay and are doing their part to protect it. It is time we lowered our voices and came together to have a thoughtful dialogue about the problems we all know are afflicting our treasured Chesapeake.

Russell B. Stevenson Jr.
Visiting professor
Georgetown University Law Center

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I was troubled by Stephen Z. Meehan’s recent rant (“Dean’s departure is opportunity for reform at UM law clinic,” July 24) against the University of Maryland law school for daring to join a water pollution lawsuit (the Hudson case) against Delmarva’s poultry industry. He seems to think that a weak and losing case, which it was, means there is no problem.

There’s a well-documented water quality problem on many Delmarva rivers that drain to the Chesapeake Bay and to Maryland and Delaware coastal bays, and excessive runoff from manure from the peninsula’s poultry industry is well documented as a contributor to it.

Gov. Martin O’Malley and his departments of environment and agriculture have moved timidly to require better controls on the spreading of manure where it is building up excess nutrients in the soils. These wash into waterways and cause loss of aquatic life.

Farmers and the poultry industry, to their credit, have been working to reduce such runoff; but progress remains insufficient and the state continues to ignore what the science is saying. Without getting into the merits of the lawsuit by the Waterkeepers Alliance and the university’s law clinic, I would suggest it was born at least in part of frustration with a broken regulatory process.

There are solutions that if phased in won’t put farmers or the poultry industry out of business. Building a power plant to burn Delmarva’s excessive poultry wastes is one, and composting waste is another. Making each farm’s levels of soil nutrients available to regulators and the public is another. Some of these are under consideration now, but weren’t when the suit was filed.

Your correspondent also might have noted that the farmer who was sued, Alan Hudson, admitted in court to getting his manure management plans required by the state changed so that he did not have to comply with them.

Tom Horton
Professor, Environmental Studies
Salisbury University

(Horton’s views are his own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Salisbury University.)