ANNAPOLIS – Rural lawmakers Thursday unveiled their own plan to fight pfiesteria, including an “aggressive” proposal to ship as much as 180,000 tons of chicken manure off the lower Eastern Shore.
Farmers would also get more time to reduce runoff from manure and would not face the threat of fines under the legislators’ bill.
The measure is a response to Gov. Parris Glendening’s anti- pfiesteria plan, which antagonized farmers with its proposed fines and four-year deadlines for compliance.
Even though their plan is largely voluntary, rural lawmakers said it improves on the governor’s bill by shipping out large piles of chicken manure beginning next year.
“With the governor’s bill, that wouldn’t start until four years out,” said Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, R-Somerset. The lawmakers’ bill calls for moving up to 60,000 tons of manure a year off the lower Shore for each of the next three years.
But Joseph C. Bryce, Glendening’s chief legislative officer, said limiting the amount of manure spread on fields as fertilizer is more important than removing manure in piles.
“I think the trucking away does not address the longer-term issues,” Bryce said. “I think we need to look at longer-term solutions about how we manage this pollution in the future.”
Scientists believe that runoff from nutrient-rich chicken manure triggered an outbreak of toxic Pfiesteria piscicida in lower Shore waterways last summer. Thousands of fish died and several people reported memory loss and other ailments.
Under Glendening’s plan, farmers would have to reduce runoff from their fields by 2002 or face fines up to $5,000.
The rural lawmakers would instead require that runoff from 80 percent of the state’s farmland be controlled by 2005, with no fines for farmers who do not join in the effort.
Both bills fund research into alternative uses of chicken manure as well as marketing efforts to promote them.
Under the lawmakers’ bill, however, current programs that help pay for manure-storage sheds on poultry farms would be extended to any farm, in an effort to spread the manure around the state.
Del. Norman H. Conway, D-Wicomico, estimated that transporting manure away from the lower Shore would cost the state $1.5 million a year.
That drew criticism from the Maryland director of Clean Water Action, who said it is “not right or fair” for taxpayers to foot the bill.
“I saw very little responsibility being taken by the poultry industry” for the manure problem, said Dru Schmidt-Perkins. “No other polluter in the state has a voluntary pollution control program.”
But Del. Ronald A. Guns, D-Cecil and chairman of the Environmental Matters Committee, said the state must subsidize transportation of manure until a market develops for it.
“They’re going to want to see that we’re not just throwing money at a problem, they’re going to want to see that we’re throwing money at a solution,” he said.
Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, D-Charles, said chicken manure has a “limited market,” but could eventually be composted, made into pellets, used in potted plants or even combined with molasses to make cow feed.
While Glendening’s plan would require that farmers reduce the amount of phosphorus in chicken manure by using the phytase enzyme in all chicken feed by 2000, the alternative bill has no such deadline. The new plan would also let farmers find other ways to cut phosphorus if phytase inhibits chicken growth or has other side effects.
The lawmakers’ plan would hire more government scientists to help farmers devise nutrient management plans, instead of the evaluation teams Glendening proposed to enforce the plans.
Conway restated his position that pfiesteria is still too poorly understood to take the aggressive measures Glendening has proposed.
“Science is still at work,” he said. “There are many theories and it takes time to move from theory to fact.
“We intend to make that case to our colleagues this session,” he said.