Food & Water Watch Calls on O’Malley Administration to Close Loopholes in Phosphorous Regulations
Statement by Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director, Food & Water Watch
Washington, D.C. – “It is widely known that phosphorous pollution from manure applied to farmland is a major source of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. Phosphorous pollution creates algae blooms that consume oxygen and create “dead zones” where fish and shellfish cannot survive, block sunlight that is needed for underwater Bay grasses and smother aquatic life on the floor of the Bay.
“EPA statistics reveal that agriculture alone contributes 42 percent of the phosphorous pollution in the Bay; manure accounts for 37 percent of the loads of phosphorus to the waterway. This isn’t surprising since there are over 304 million chickens raised in Maryland that produce 1.3 billion pounds of waste annually, much of which gets dumped untreated onto fields, where it can leach into groundwater or run-off into the Bay.
“Farmland in the Lower Eastern Shore, where the chicken industry is most active, is already saturated with phosphorus. According to researchers, up to 80 percent of the fields sampled on the Lower Eastern Shore contain so much phosphorus that they simply can’t absorb anymore. Worse yet, a recent study suggests that even if phosphorous application were stopped today, it would take decades to reduce phosphorous levels in soils sufficient to protect our waterways.
“The O’Malley Administration wisely acknowledged in 2010 that the tool farmers were using to help them determine how much, if any, phosphorous should be applied to fields was badly outdated. Now more than three years later, the Maryland Department of Agriculture is finally on the verge of proposing regulations that include an updated Phosphorous Management Tool (PMT). However, recent statements by the Maryland Department of Agriculture give cause for concern about how these regulations will be implemented.
“According to MDA’s recent press release, nutrient management plans developed after October 1, 2014 will be required to use the new PMT. Given that farmers are required to update their NMPs once every three years, this means that farmers could update their plans in the summer of 2014 and, arguably, buy themselves another three years before they have to implement the PMT. The regulations need to include specific language to clarify the requirement that farmers must implement and abide by the PMT in applying phosphorus to their fields as of October 1, 2014.
“The regulations should also clarify that farmers who qualify for ag certainty are not shielded from complying with the PMT regulations since the PMT regulations were initiated before the ag certainty law was enacted. If farmers were allowed to avail themselves of the 10 immunity provisions from new regulations under the ag certainty law, compliance with the PMT could be delayed another decade.
“Finally, though the PMT contains provisions that limit the way manure can be applied on fields with a “high” PMT score, the new PMT should embrace an outright ban of manure application on nutrient saturated fields. Any tool that allows for any phosphorous to be added to the 70-80 percent of the fields sampled on the Lower Eastern Shore that are saturated with phosphorus means that we will likely never reach our water protection goals.
“Getting phosphorus control right is critical if we’re ever going to save the Bay, and given the length of time between phosphorus application updates, it’s important that the new PMT regulation is as protective as possible. If not, it may be over another decade before we can try again.”