Updated May 9
During the 2012 Maryland legislative session, the burning of pollutant-laden chicken poop was embraced as a Tier I renewable energy resource, while readily available, clean wind power was dead. In Maryland, chicken is truly king. Or, as a series of emails obtained from Martin O’Malley’s office to a Perdue official indicate, it’s at least Governor.
Food & Water Watch obtained theemails through a Public Information Act request for all correspondence between the Governor’s office and the giant Eastern Shore poultry company.
In one back-and-forth between O’Malley and the Perdue representative from March 2011, the Governor acknowledges that wind energy may cost the poultry industry “18 cents to $2 additional per month at the outset,” but suggests that the cost is well worth it because “kids keep dying in the middle east.”
Eighteen cents a month to keep kids from dying in the Middle East was, apparently, a price too high to pay for the industry; Perdue responded by complaining of the additional costs to the integrators and stating that wind “is not high on [its] list of concerns.” Perdue, however, did buy into the chicken manure-to-energy scheme as a way to offload some of its mountains of waste in the state. And thanks to companies like Perdue, today in Maryland chicken crap is renewable, and wind is not.
The 70 pages of emails we obtained were almost exclusively between O’Malley and Perdue’s General Counsel, Herb Frerichs. Mr. Frerichs is also a partner at the law firm that represents Perdue in the Clean Water Act suit bought by environmentalists for pollution coming from one of the company’s contract growers’ facilities. The emails depict a very close and personal relationship between the Governor and Frerichs, who were classmates at the Maryland School of Law in the mid-to-late 1980s.
O’Malley has taken a very public stand against the Perdue lawsuit, going so far as to support legislation that would defund the Maryland School of Law clinic that represents the plaintiffs in the case. He claims to have a personal interest in protecting farmers, but the emails suggest that in all things chicken, the Governor is little more than Perdue’s cheerleader and his real interest is in protecting the company. Back on November of 2011, the Governor released a letter he wrote to the environmental law clinic denouncing the merits of the ongoing litigation and calling on students to represent polluters instead of nonprofits trying to protect the Bay. On the day that letter went public, the governor received a pat on the back from Frerichs in a standalone email that simply said, “Very nice.”
What is also clear from the emails is that O’Malley plays a very deferential role in his relationship with Frerichs. Excerpts from one email string from July and August of 2010, in which O’Malley backs away from statements made by his own press secretary regarding the need for Perdue to deal with its vast amounts of waste, paint a portrait of a head of state who walks on eggshells around the chicken industry:
Frerichs -> O’Malley, Jul 30, 2010 7:49 PM
Was trying to have a vacation but was read in on the articles in response to Enviro MD petition. Big news on shore. I assume your press secretary speaks for you but we were surprised. Is this your current position? Its certainly your right to think this way-just let us know.
O’Malley -> Frerichs, Jul 30, 10:16 PM
I’ve spoken with my guy who said those quotes and I’ve now read the full article. I think all of us are feeling the pressure of the tmdl’s — and he didn’t need to state the obvious or encourage more pressure.
O’Malley -> Frerichs, Jul 30, 10:20 PM
I haven’t seen the petition, wish my own guys had checked with me. Might have helped avoid the sensationalizing effect of the “pressure” quote.
Frerichs -> O’Malley, August 1, 2010 7:53 AM
Thanks for getting back to me. Know that we have heard gansler and kennedy say similar things. Not really much in their about working together.
O’Malley -> Frerichs, August 1, 2010 10:23 AM
Shaun didn’t need to encourage “the pressure” — we would all benefit from more implementation (avi homes, distributed waste to energy) and less pressure.
O’Malley -> Frerichs, August 2, 2010 at 7:00 AM
The message I have to deliver as friend. Is that you have always distanced yourself from the other on the attack. Now you can’t.
O’Malley responded to Frerich’s admonition by scrambling to repair the damage and sending Frerichs a draft of an email that he wants to send to Jim Perdue, trying desperately to explain away his press secretary’s statements. Over the next few days, O’Malley waits anxiously for Frerich’s permission to send the note, before Frerichs rejects it:
O’Malley -> Frerichs, August 6, 2010 at 4:16 PM
Dear Jim — given the back and forth between my Press Secretary Shaun Ademac and Bill Saterfield, I wanted to let you know that all of Shaun’s comments were related to the work across all sectors — waste water discharge, stormwater, agriculture, septic — that will have to be done to meet the new total daily maximum loads.
Notwithstanding Mr. Satterfield’s fears, I have intention of re-visiting “co-permitting” and appreciate your willingness to work together to achieve Maryland’s tmdl goals. Sincerely, mom
O’Malley -> Frerichs, August 7, 2010 at 7:53 PM
Were you ok with that message I sent to you?
Frerichs -> O’Malley, August 8, 2010 at 6:42 PM
Not sure at this point. I have been witness to some back and forth emails over weekend and need to see how people feel tomorrow and what will work best.
O’Malley -> Frerichs, August 8, 2010 at 7:53 PM
Hmmm. Let me know
O’Malley -> Frerichs, August 9, 2010 at 2:47 PM
How’s my message doing? (It wasn’t that long…)
Frerichs -> O’Malley, August 10, 2010 at 4:24 PM
Sorry for delay. My conclusion is that letter will not be helpful. Jim took this very personally.
O’Malley -> Frerichs, August 10, 2010 at 4:33 PM
So what am I supposed to do? Just leave it alone? Call him, what?
O’Malley -> Frerichs, August 10, 2010 at 4:36 PM
By the way, there was a typo in the draft of that note. I, of course, meant we have “no” intention of pursuing co-permitting.
The emails also underscore an unparalleled level of access to the Governor’s office and his agencies:
O’Malley -> Frerichs, November 5, 2011 at 9:16 AM
So, have you guys decided not only to not be a part of poultry waste to energy but to oppose it?
Frerichs -> O’Malley, November 5, 2011 at 6:38 PM
I reread your email and I’m a little put off. Besides doing more to save agriculture in the state of md than the secretary of ag. We were working with [redacted] until they lost interest when state rfp went out. And stopped talking to us. Then we reached out to [redacted] and are currently trying to work with them.
O’Malley -> Frerichs, November 5, 2011 at 7:16 PM
Don’t be put off. When I hear rumors that don’t seem to square, I contact you right away.
O’Malley -> Frerichs, November 5, 2011 at 7:19 PM
What is it about the Secretary of Agriculture’s job performance that you find lacking?
Frerichs -> O’Malley, November 6, 2011 at 7:22 AM
I just feel like I’m trying to push a bunch of stuff and I don’t see him around. He’s not as strong as his counterparts in DE and VA. I work w all three.
O’Malley -> Frerichs, November 6, 2011 at 10:01 AM
I’m guessing you don’t have the personal email of governors of DE or VA, so let me know when Buddy can/should be doing more to help you push stuff. I’m serious. I’ll have him call you monday.
The RFP referred to in the email is a Request for Proposals that went out in early November 2011 to solicit projects that use chicken manure to generate electricity. In December 2011, Perdue and its manure-to-energy partner Fibrowatt submitted a proposal to build a 10 Megawatt facility on Perdue’s property on the Eastern Shore. There is no indication yet that Perdue was formally awarded the project, but given the relationship between O’Malley and the company, there can be little doubt that the poultry company will end up with the state’s approval.
Governor O’Malley continues to prop up the poultry industry despite the fact that all Maryland agriculture combined contributes only 0.35 percent to the state’s Gross Domestic Product, with chicken contributing only a fraction of that number.
O’Malley’s shameful pandering to big chicken knows no limits. Just recently, the Governor attended a Delmarva Poultry Industry dinner to “salute the industry that is an economic driver of the Maryland economy.” O’Malley continues to prop up this industry despite the fact that all Maryland agriculture combined contributes only 0.35% to the state’s Gross Domestic Product, with chicken contributing only a fraction of that number.
Rumor has it that his latest industry surrender will happen tomorrow morning when the Governor is having a private meeting with a handful of agribusiness and environmental representatives to disclose his long-awaited Nutrient Management Plan regulations. The NMP regs are supposed to place limits on the way the ag industry handles its wastes in order to protect waterways, but leaked indications are the O’Malley’s regs openly ignore the recommendations of local scientists at the dire expense of the Bay.
O’Malley talks of making a run for the president in 2016, yet he lacks the backbone to stand up to the industry that is most responsible for the pollution pouring into the Chesapeake Bay, killing jobs, damaging natural resources and costing the state money. His dealings with Perdue clearly show a man who is far too willing to follow, not lead—a man who is willing to sacrifice the welfare of the people of his state for a favor to his friends. He is certainly not the person you would ever want leading the country.
*Update: In its coverage of these emails, the Baltimore Sun is reporting that around the time these emails began, Perdue began shifting its political giving from the Republican Governor’s Association to the Democratic Governor’s Association–which O’Malley heads. Read more here. Additionally, we learned that the governor’s brother Peter O’Malley was recently hired at Venable LLP, the law firm where Herb Frerichs works.