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Volume 15, Issue 42 ~ October 18 - October 24, 2007


Don’t Chicken Out on Poultry Policing

To bring back the Bay, we conjure up vast spending programs and embark on new studies.

We trumpet cooperative agreements with neighbors and rely on voluntary compliance for farmers and industries.

We all know where that’s got us.

So why not try at least one new approach: turn off the spigot of nitrate-laden poultry pollution pouring into Chesapeake Bay.

Last Sunday, the Sun and reporter Tom Pelton did the region a service by shining a light on the state’s blind-eye policies toward poultry farming on the Eastern Shore.

The numbers tell the story: one billion pounds of manure from 862 farms, much of it sprayed repeatedly on farmlands as fertilizer.

That practice leaves over half of the peninsula’s streams polluted by fecal matter plus half impaired by nitrates at more than three times the levels harming aquatic life.

Do we need to tell you where those streams flow?

Here are more numbers: Maryland’s Agriculture Department checks only 10 percent or so of poultry operations to see if they have so-called nutrient management plans, required by law back in the Glendening administration. (The Sun notes that of the number, two farms were fined this year. Each paid the maximum: $350.)

Put those numbers in context: Dead-zones are real. The Bay is choking on nitrogen. Nitrate pollution is Public Enemy No. 1 for the Chesapeake.

But thus far, Maryland is not among the dozen or so states that have moved aggressively to rein in poultry pollution.

Don’t bother thinking about help from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (Promotion). Our national approach is nothing like Europe’s, where they’ve learned the wisdom of tying environmental stewardship to farm subsidies.

In European Commission countries, pollute the land and your farm subsidy check gets whacked. Keep polluting, and your mailbox is empty.

In Maryland thus far, the poultry industry has succeeded in bullying and buying its way out of meaningful regulation.

The Sun reported that the O’Malley administration is working out details of a proposal to change our slacker approach to poultry pollution.

It’s about time. If O’Malley and the General Assembly can insist on raising our taxes to provide essential services, we can demand that they do a better job of protecting the Chesapeake from an industry virtually out of control.

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