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Hogan announces ‘enhanced’ phosphorous management tool

Gov. Larry Hogan Monday said he will offer regulations aimed at controlling phosphorous pollution in the Chesapeake Bay while protecting farmers on the Eastern Shore.

Hogan said his plan incorporates four enhancements to the regulations proposed by then-Gov. Martin J. O’Malley in November 2014. Hogan withdrew those regulations hours after taking the oath of office a month ago. The Republican governor vowed that his plan would reduce phosphorous levels in the Chesapeake Bay while protecting farmers and the poultry industry on the Eastern Shore.

“Like everyone else, I want to clean up the bay but I reject the idea that we have to destroy a way of live on the Eastern Shore to make that happen,” Hogan said.

The announcement was hailed by farmers, but environmental groups say they will withhold judgment until they have a chance to review the actual language of the regulations proposed by Hogan.

“We’re pleased the governor listened to the many voices that said we need to do more for clean water now and that phosphorous is a real problem especially on the Eastern Shore,” said Alison Prost, Maryland executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “So we’re pleased they are taking a step. We’re just not sure what that step means.”

A full copy of the proposed regulations was not available.

Hogan said his plan will incorporate a longer timeline for full implementation with the program beginning in 2016 and reaching full implementation in 2022.

Farms with higher levels of phosphorous would be prohibited from using phosphorous-rich chicken manure or other products to fertilize crops. Hogan said his proposal would ban additional phosphorous from roughly 21 percent of the farms on the Eastern Shore.

The plan will also include an economic impact pilot study as well as money for new technologies to turn chicken waste into energy as well. Hogan said a substantial amount of state money would be provided to offset the economic impact to farms as they implement the new regulations.

“Jobs income and a way of life are at stake, and I’m not interested in implementing regulations based on theory,” Hogan said.

The governor said the amount of the subsidy would be based on the economic impact study. He did not specify how much money he was earmarking in the fiscal 2016 budget for the program.

“We believe that that this new approach is a win-win for the bay and for the continued viability of Maryland’s number one industry and the backbone of the Eastern Shore economy,” sid Donnie Tennyson, president of the Maryland Grain Producers Association.

Chuck Fry, president of the Maryland Farm Bureau, said farmers need an alternative to the nitrogen and nicro-nutrient rich poultry and livestock manures used to fertilize their fields.

“We know action must be taken by farmers so that we can continue to be leaders in conservation practices that protect the bay,” Fry said in a statement.

Some environmental groups said they are concerned about potential delays in implementing a phosphorous plan.

“We’re pleased to see the Hogan Administration acknowledging that phosphorus pollution from manure is a serious problem that must be addressed, that cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay and local waters is a ‘shared responsibility’ and that action needs to be taken,” according to a statement released by the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition. “The environmental community just learned of Governor Hogan’s proposal this afternoon, and we have yet to see the actual regulations. Until we see those regulations, and evaluate them, we cannot say whether or not they are what we need to get the job done.

“We would of course be concerned about any additional delays, loopholes or contingencies. We want to see these long overdue rules to better manage manure implemented as quickly and efficiently as possible.”