Staving off defeat

It was a Friday afternoon document dump on the state level, but today the Maryland Department of Agriculture dropped its phosphorus management tool regulations. A piece in the Daily Times by Jennifer Shutt reminded readers that area farmers had objected to these changes since the discussion began in 2012.

But before doing a victory lap, it should be noted the regulations aren’t going away:

As a result of concerns identified in the public meetings and public comment process, MDA is withdrawing the regulations. The department will consider all comments and critical issues raised by stakeholders, develop an approach that addresses concerns raised to date, and resubmit a new proposal to AELR in 2014 that includes a phased implementation schedule for the new tool.

Local reaction was pleased, but cautious. Delegate Mike McDermott, whose district covers much of the lower Shore, noted:

While this is great news for Marylanders and the lower shore specifically, we must remain vigilant in the coming year…they will not stop. Today, I pre-filed a bill that would require a thorough fiscal review and economic impact study on regulations brought before the AELR Committee by state departments. I will also be offering a bill that would remove the ability of the Executive Branch to implement a regulation if it is not approved by the AELR Committee. The General Assembly must stand up to the overreach by this or any future governor’s administration whey they attempt to bypass the legislative process. Today is akin to a ballgame being called on account of rain…rest assured, their will be a make up and we all need to be prepared!

Added local candidate Christopher Adams, who is seeking to represent another portion of the Lower Shore in Annapolis:

Governing to the brink of disaster is just bad public policy. While this is good short term news for the agricultural community, it is a shame that a reasoned approach was not contemplated from the beginning.

So what is a reasoned approach? Buddy Hance, the state’s Secretary of Agriculture, defended the idea behind the regulations:

The O’Malley-Brown Administration remains committed to adopting the PMT through rule making and developing an approach that further considers comments raised by policymakers and citizens alike. MDA is confident that the PMT science is sound, based on 20 years of evolving federal and state research to better understand soil phosphorus and managing risk of loss to our rivers and streams.

I guess the state was hoping to get this done before the election season heats up, but we on the Shore raised too much of a stink. (Pun intended.) Certainly the O’Malley minions in Annapolis are making the political calculation that the farmers on the Eastern Shore aren’t going to vote for them anyway, but such a proposal would please those who swoon at the thought of pristine wildlife corridors on the Eastern Shore and figure farmers are the sole source of pollution for the Bay because of that icky chicken manure.

Moreover, something tells me that research “evolved” in the direction of the wishes of those paying for the studies. Since both the federal and state governments are tightly clutched in Democratic hands, and that party is the home of those who tip the balance furthest away from coexistence between poultry production and acceptable water quality – forever chasing a goal of placing the Bay in the pristine condition it was in when just a few thousand native tribesmen lived here as opposed to the millions who now inhabit its watershed – it’s no surprise the research has suggested regulations local agricultural advocates reject.

But it’s like almost any other cherished liberal dream – like water eroding a large rock, cracks develop and eventually the obstacle is surmounted. Many of the initiatives our state is saddled with withered and died multiple times before the General Assembly finally relented. So it will be with this package of regulations: they didn’t get them this time, but in 2014 they’ll hope it flies under the radar with the looming election. If not, it might be an O’Malley parting gift at the dawn of 2015, daring a Republican successor to overturn it.

Or worse, it could be the stepping-off point for another Democratic governor to cite even more favorable and extreme “evolving research” and really clamp down on the Eastern Shore’s agricultural industry.

Poultry producers are getting it on all sides now: their feed costs continue to be well above average thanks to the ethanol mandates and their effect on corn prices, the value of their land is significantly and adversely affected by state-mandated tier maps which hinder opportunities for development on road frontage if desired, and now these new proposed regulations layered on top of hundreds of pages of existing state and federal mandates. Add to that competition from abroad, and one has to ponder how much more the major players will take.

If Perdue ever left our little corner of the world, the cherished Radical Green dream of wildlife corridors may follow. There won’t be a lot of point for many local farmers to stay in business.

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