Saying “everyone contributes to the problem” of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, Gov. Robert Ehrlich recently told a Maryland summit that he wants to hear all views before deciding how to better regulate nutrient runoff.
Ehrlich followed through on a campaign promise by holding the forum of 300 farmers, poultry growers, environmentalists, agricultural consultants, researchers, extension agents and state officials. All of the seats were sold out at the one-day summit Aug. 5 at Chesapeake College, in Wye City.
“Every viewpoint needs to be heard,” the governor told participants before they separated into groups to discuss recommendations. “The purpose of the summit is to … get by this supposed zero-sum game between the agricultural community and environmental interests.”
The purpose also, said state Agricultural Secretary Lewis R. Riley, is to come up with recommendations to rework the state’s Water Quality Improvement Act of 1998. Farmers have complained that the law is too complicated, expensive and unmanageable.
Many farmers are following their nutrient management plans, Ehrlich said after his opening remarks, but the rest need a law they can use more easily. “Thousands of the programs have been on the shelf, for one reason or another, and these programs need to be taken off the shelf and placed in the field,” Ehrlich said.
The governor said he hoped the forum would squelch the idea that farmers and environmentalists are bickering over Bay issues.
“The sooner we get past the politics and the (idea that) because you’re pro-environment, you’re anti-agriculture, and if you’re pro-agriculture, you’re anti-environment, the better off we’ll be,” Ehrlich said.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William C. Baker said he is optimistic that the governor’s forum will help both sides of the nutrient debate work together.
“We want to bring the temperature down, stop the finger-pointing, work together,” Baker said. “These solutions really should be mutually beneficial for agriculture and for the environment. We believe that.”
Environmentalists contend Maryland, which has promised to significantly lower nutrient runoff by the end of the decade, can’t ease regulations or avoid potentially expensive solutions.
More than 500 million chickens are grown on the Eastern Shore each year, producing billions of pounds of nutrient-heavy manure. Scientists say the overuse of fertilizer, and manure in particular, allows nitrogen and phosphorus to enter the Bay, lowering water quality, killing underwater grasses, lowering oxygen levels and threatening fish and crabs.