Environmental groups are split over a bill that would give Maryland farmers more certainty about how Chesapeake Bay restoration regulations will affect them.
Under the legislation, farmers would be exempted from new regulations for 10 years if they agree to meet Bay restoration goals and submit to inspections of their farms. Supporters argue it is a way to engage farmers and collect data on restoration efforts, while opponents note it could shift the burden onto others.
That doesn't seem like an unreasonable plan. Actually acquiring the data on the scope problem instead of relying on models? How scientific! Probably not something we want to make a precedent...
Groups opposing the bill include the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Environment Maryland and the National Wildlife Federation.
Tony Caligiuri of the National Wildlife Federation's Mid-Atlantic Center said municipalities, developers and homeowners are paying to reduce pollution.
"But our plans could be completely upended if we start treating one single sector, agriculture, with such favoritism," Caligiuri said.
Yeah, special treatment for particular interest groups is absolutely unheard of in American politics...
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation supports the bill, which was heard Tuesday before a Senate committee.
Most farms are not regulated like sewage treatment plants and other permitted facilities, and the program would provide a framework to encourage farmers to participate, CBF Vice President Kim Coble said.
A few more details...
Maryland Agriculture Secretary Buddy Hance said large concentrated animal feeding operations that are already operating under a permit are not included in the program, but about 5,500 smaller farms would be eligible. The bill is similar to one that has been passed in Virginia, where regulations are now being crafted, and a bill being considered in Delaware, the agriculture secretary said.
Farmers would have to agree to meet pollution reduction goals under a Bay restoration effort being led by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and agree to inspections every three years. They'd also be required to submit annual reports, including soil test results on fertilized land. At the end of the 10 years, farmers would be required to meet any new requirements, but the program would give them time to prepare, Hance said.
As much as it pains me to do so, I'm going to go with the CBF position on this one. If the farmers have to agree to meet their nutrient reduction goals, I don't see what the problem is for the other groups, unless they just want to wrap the farmers up in regulations as quickly as possible.
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