ANNAPOLIS – Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s chief lobbyist assured skeptical Eastern Shore lawmakers Friday that fines under the governor’s pfiesteria-control plan will not be ruinous for farmers.
Fines will be no more than $1,000 for each violation of nutrient management programs that the administration wants to require of farmers, said Joseph C. Bryce, chief legislative officer for the governor.
It was a sharp change from Thursday, when Bryce could only tell members of a Senate committee that fines would not exceed other agencies’ environmental penalties of $10,000 a day.
Bryce’s appearance before the Eastern Shore delegation came just two days after Glendening unveiled his pfiesteria plan in the State of the State address Wednesday.
Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, R-Somerset, began Friday’s meeting with a blistering attack on the governor’s plan.
“I cannot for the life of me understand why the farmers are targeted for fines,” Stoltzfus said. “Why would the governor target farmers and no one else?”
But Bryce noted that the governor’s bill, to be submitted by Monday, also calls for fines on commercial fertilizer companies and others who do not comply with nutrient management plans.
The governor’s plan would require that farmers implement nutrient management plans by 2002 or face civil penalties, loss of state funds and restricted farm operations.
Fines would be similar to those imposed for the misuse of pesticide spray cans, Bryce said.
“The goal is not to raise money for the state, the goal is to achieve compliance with the program,” he said.
Nutrient-rich runoff from fertilizers such as chicken manure has been linked to last summer’s outbreak of the toxic microbe Pfiesteria piscicida in some Eastern Shore waterways.
Glendening pledged to prevent another outbreak, but delegates and senators at Friday’s meeting wanted to ensure that farmers would not have to make a disproportionate effort.
Maryland isn’t the only state that affects the Pocomoke River, the site of last summer’s most severe pfiesteria outbreak, said Del. Norman H. Conway, D-Wicomico. Some of the headwaters of the Pocomoke are in Delaware, he said.
“It is something that the surrounding states” contribute to, said Conway. “We ought to contact them.”
Bryce said the administration will try to enlist the aid of Delaware officials.
Shore lawmakers also said the federal government should coordinate efforts between the states.
“I think it really defies anyone’s common sense that we don’t coordinate” state efforts, said Del. Mary Roe Walkup, R- Kent.
Lawmakers also said nutrient management plans need more research before farmers are given new mandates. Plans to date have focused on nitrogen runoff, Stoltzfus said, but methods for controlling phosphorus runoff are only about six months old.
Phosphorous management “is a new science,” he said. “Why are we jumping the gun and implementing these (timetables)?”
But Bryce said four years is plenty of time and that prior research has gone as far as it can. Carrying out nutrient management plans is the only way to learn more about managing runoff, he said.
“The date is four years from now and there is much that can be done … in a four-year period,” he said.