MDA adjusting course on PMT action to hush protests
By BRUCE HOTCHKISS
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — At least two by-invitation-only meetings have been held over the past two weeks as the Maryland Department of Agriculture attempts to quiet the storm of protest over its planned introduction of what is called the Phosphorous Management Tool.
A key element in Gov. Martin O’Malley’s portfolio for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, the PMT had been submitted by MDA to the General Assembly’s Administrative, Executive and Legislative Joint Review Committee for a final look-see before being hurried into effect and use.
MDA said it requested emergency status for the review so that the PMT regulations could be in place for the fall planting season.
Farmers and the ag industry, wondering why the rush, contended that immediate implementation of the PMT rules would cause severe hardship on poultry and livestock producers, and create havoc in the industry.
Then, two days before the scheduled Aug. 28 AELR hearing, the MDA, obviously harkening to a rising chorus of protest within the ag industry, withdrew its petition for emergency status.
MDA Secretary Earl “Buddy” Hance said he ordered the withdrawal “in order to ensure farmers have time to adjust to the use of this new tool and to respond to questions regarding certain elements of the regulation raised by the environmental community.”
He said the MDA has “decided to meet with key stakeholders and will resubmit the proposal next month.”
Hance added that the O’Malley administration “wants to be sure that the regulations are rolled out with adequate time for everyone to understand how the tool will work and what it means to an agricultural operation.”
But it was only a matter of hours before it became evident the O’Malley administration had ordered MDA to proceed full speed ahead with the PTA activation for, on the afternoon of Aug. 28, Hance met with a small group, which included Jenny Rhodes, president of Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., and several representatives of the environmental community, to discuss “the next steps.”
Emerging from that meeting, Rhodes summoned a meeting for the next day at DPI headquarters in Georgetown, Del., of three key DPI committees.
Hance had announced that he was holding another meeting in Annapolis on Wednesday, Sept. 4, reportedly under an expanded invitation list.
“We need to learn what is being proposed and how to respond,” wrote DPI executive director Bill Satterfield in an e-mail to committee members.
Key players in all of this have been unusually tight-lipped about what’s going on.
However, a spokesperson for MDA did issue this statement:
“Gov. O’Malley heard the concerns of the community and asked Secretary Hance to take another attempt at the PMT regulations. MDA and a representative from the Governor’s Office met with key stakeholders from the agricultural and environmental communities last week to address the issues raised and see if consensus can be achieved. The group made great progress and will be meeting again soon.”
Adding to what government officials contend is the urgency to get PMT on the books, was a recent appearance of Will Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, before a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing.
“We are seeing accelerated implementation of practices that scientists agree will lead to further improvements in water quality and ultimately a saved Bay,” Baker said. “Now is not the time to rest. Now is the moment in time which must be seized to accelerate Bay restoration to gain sufficient ground to overcome the continuing crush of population growth.
“The Bay suffered centuries of degradation. But we do not have the luxury of time to save it,” Baker said. “We have the best science in the world, the technology and knowhow to get the job done. This is our watch, our legacy to leave our children and grandchildren. We must succeed.”