- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2003

WYE MILLS, Md. — Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. told a statewide summit yesterday that he wants to hear all views before deciding how to better regulate nutrient runoff into the Chesapeake Bay.

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, addressed a forum of 300 farmers, poultry growers, environmentalists, agricultural consultants, researchers, extension agents and state officials.

“Every viewpoint needs to be heard,” the governor told participants before they separated into groups to discuss recommendations. “The purpose of the summit is to … get by this supposed zero-sum game between the agricultural community and environmental interests.”

State Agricultural Secretary Lewis R. Riley said the summit is also intended to help devise recommendations that Mr. Ehrlich may use to rework the state’s Water Quality Improvement Act of 1998. Farmers have complained that the law is too complicated, expensive and unmanageable.

Many farmers are following their nutrient-management plans, Mr. Ehrlich said after his opening remarks, but the rest need a law they can use more easily.

“Thousands of the programs have been on the shelf for one reason or another, and these programs need to be taken off the shelf and placed in the field,” Mr. Ehrlich said.

Mr. Ehrlich said he hoped the forum would put to rest the idea that farmers and environmentalists are bickering about Bay issues.

“The sooner we get past the politics and the [idea that] because you’re pro-environment, you’re anti-agriculture, and if you’re pro-agriculture, you’re anti-environment, the better off we’ll be,” Mr. Ehrlich said. “I’m tired of it.”

Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William C. Baker said he is optimistic the governor’s forum will help both sides of the nutrient debate work together.

“We want to bring the temperature down, stop the finger-pointing, work together,” Mr. Baker said. “These solutions really should be mutually beneficial for agriculture and for the environment. We believe that.”

The Ehrlich administration has ended an effort by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, to hold large poultry processors responsible for the manure from chickens raised on their behalf by independent farm contractors. That “co-permitting” proposal was ruled illegal by an administrative-law judge, a decision affirmed by the Maryland Department of the Environment.

Environmentalists, however, say that if Maryland is to fulfill its pledge to significantly cut nutrient runoff by the end of this decade, the state can’t afford to roll back regulations or avoid potentially expensive solutions for the safe handling of hundreds of millions of pounds of poultry manure.

A survey conducted last month by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found extremely low levels of oxygen and almost no adult fish in a 250-square-mile area of deep water in the upper Chesapeake Bay. That is about 30 percent larger than a similar lifeless zone found last summer.

Scientists say that overuse of fertilizer, particularly manure, causes nitrogen and phosphorus to run into the Bay, lowering water quality, killing underwater grasses and contributing to depleted oxygen levels that threaten fish and crabs. The more than 500 million chickens produced on the Eastern Shore each year produce billions of pounds of nutrient-heavy manure.

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