It is undeniable that chicken manure is a valuable fertilizer used throughout Delmarva. Equally undeniable is the excess phosphorus contained in the manure is harming the Bay. Proponents of each side have good arguments and that is the reason the implementation of a Phosphorus Management Tool has gone back and forth over the years.

A strict adherence to some versions of the tool’s soil test rules would burden farmers, who would have to pay for more expensive chemical fertilizers tailored to their soils’ specific nutrient needs. A less strict application of the tool would allow some nutrients to continue to cause harm in the watershed and the Bay. It is a classic economics versus environment contest that at least three governors have struggled with.

Poultry industry data from 2014 indicate that Delmarva growers produced 569 million birds that consumed 110 million bushels of feed — all grown on Delmarva. This represent $3 billion in wholesale value. This is a powerful economic benefit to Delmarva, where most counties are 80 percent farmland.

Equally powerful is the environmental argument that states 30 percent of the Bay’s pollution is the result of excess farm nutrient runoff.

There is a solution and it is simple. Green Mountain Power, a small utility in Vermont — where dairy pollution was affecting Lake Champlain — in 2004 came up with the idea of allowing their customers to pledge 1 additional cent per kilowatt hour ($5/month) on their utility bill to help control farm runoff.

Now, 3 percent of their 140,000 customers are supporting the “Cowpower” program, which has resulted in 14 major dairy farms using digesters to turn dairy manure into methane, which powers generators to produce farm-level power and heat, as well as clean bedding for the cows. (For details, visit greenmountainpower.com.)

Just imagine what our tri-state area could achieve with nearly 7 million utility customers. If just 1 percent volunteered 1 cent/kwh it would yield $700,000 per month for nutrient reduction. A key opportunity is at hand but it has a shelf life.

You may be aware that the Exelon Corp. has sought to purchase Baltimore Gas & Electric and has filed with the Public Service Commission to buy Pepco and Delmarva Power; thereby consolidating most utility customers in the tri-state area.

Wouldn’t this be a great opportunity for our legislators to suggest to Exelon that a condition of their merger approval is their agreement to institute a “Pennies For The Bay” program. This would cost Exelon nothing because their cost to implement “Pennies” would be reimbursed from the volunteer funds. Furthermore, their corporate environmental reputation would be greatly enhanced.

The pennies donated would go directly to environmental organizations — not the state’s general fund — to be allocated to proven farm nutrient-reduction strategies.

Exelon will soon gain approval for its takeover. Our opportunity to persuade our legislators and regulators to make “Pennies For The Bay” a condition of merger approval is shrinking. Maryland State Sen. Stephen Hershey has expressed interest in “Pennies.” If you agree, please let your state legislators and appointed officials know that you approve of a “Pennies For The Bay” plan as a condition of the approval of the Exelon merger.