An amended version of the O’Malley Phosphorus Management Tool regulations passed the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee on a 7-4 party line vote, setting it up for review by the full Senate at an unspecified future date.
You may recall that one of Larry Hogan’s first actions as governor was to unceremoniously yank the PMT regulations hours before the deadline for publication in the Maryland Register, only to come back a few weeks later with retooled regulations of his own. However, those regulations weren’t good enough for environmental groups and they’re supporting the original version as it winds its way through the General Assembly.
So while Hogan’s Agriculture Phosphorus Initiative regulations have been proposed (but not yet placed in the Maryland Register), the Democratic counterpart has moved a step closer to passage. It’s worth noting that the Senate is still 33-14 Democrat, so even if the one Democrat representing an agricultural area (Jim Mathias) breaks with his party it’s still likely to pass with a vetoproof Senate majority.
One change from the last election is the wipeout of most of the moderate, centrist Democrats in the General Assembly to be replaced by conservative Republicans. This will be key if the O’Malley PMT regulations make it through the process, as it’s likely Governor Hogan would veto them. With 50 House Republicans, the chances of a veto override in the House are much slimmer as only a handful of Democrats need to back Hogan and the GOP to sustain the veto. With seven more Republicans in that body, presumably they’re more reliable administration supporters than the Democrats they replaced.
Yet this uncertainty places a number of farmers, particularly on the Lower Shore, in a sort of administrative limbo as they can’t predict how the 2015 growing season will shake out as far as the usage of manure on their fields. We’re only a few short weeks away from planting for many farmers who don’t have winter wheat in their fields. Lower Shore farmers are especially affected because about 1 in 5 would face an immediate ban on applying manure to their fields under the Hogan regulations. (Many have already started, though, as the first of March brought the end of the state’s winter prohibition on the practice.)
Of course the agricultural community, forced to pick its poison, would prefer the Agriculture Phosphorus Initiative to the bill going through the General Assembly. (One important caveat, though: SB257 was passed “with amendment” but the amendments weren’t available as I wrote this.) But the General Assembly bill would take precedence over any regulations Hogan writes, so it wouldn’t be surprising to hear that April 14 can’t come quickly enough for that community.