- The Washington Times - Monday, January 7, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is proposing new permitting requirements that would apply to about 200 large Eastern Shore poultry farms and allow regulators to inspect chicken houses and collect water samples from nearby streams.

Pollution-control permits already are required for large dairy and hog farms, but poultry was exempted when the regulations were written more than a decade ago, though the industry is larger. Maryland proposed similar permits in 2004 under Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, but the proposal was dropped after farmers complained it was too burdensome.

Response to the proposal by environmentalists was mixed, with a former Environmental Protection Agency official saying it doesn’t go far enough to protect the Chesapeake Bay from farm runoff.

The regulations proposed by Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, would require a state permit for a chicken farm with more than 125,000 birds or poultry houses larger than 75,000 square feet. Under those criteria, about 200 of the state’s 862 poultry farms would require the permits, which would cost farmers about $120 a year in fees.

Permitted farms would have to allow state environmental inspectors onto their land to sample for pollution, take photographs and check manure- management records. Annual reports also would have to be submitted to the state, declaring the numbers of animals, manure produced and how it was disposed.

Manure would have to be kept more than 100 feet from streams, and a 25-foot-wide filter strip of vegetation along streams and ditches also would be required.

The Department of the Environment will take comments from the public on the proposal and issue final regulations March 31. The regulations will take effect within 120 days after that, officials said.

Robert Summers, the state’s deputy environment secretary, said regularly scheduled inspections are not required under the proposal. Mr. Summers said the agency has 35 water-pollution inspectors, who also must monitor sewage-treatment plants, construction sites, wetlands and other locations.

“We do not have an adequate number of inspectors to do all the inspections we’d like to do,” he said. “So we are going to prioritize our inspections to only those that have the highest environmental and public health risks.”

The state passed a law requiring most farms to have fertilizer-management plans following an outbreak of the toxic algae Pfiesteria on the Pocomoke River in 1997. However, that law does not require farms to limit runoff. It only makes recommendations, and any monitoring is conducted by the state agriculture department, not environmental regulators.

“I think it’s greatly needed,” said Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, Prince George’s Democrat and chairman of a Senate environment subcommittee. “Chickens have been one of the major problems for water quality in the bay. There has been a lot of fear from the agricultural community about this and a lot of resistance.”

Michele Merkel, Chesapeake regional coordinator for the Waterkeepers Alliance, an environmental group, said the state was required under federal law to begin policing water pollution caused by chicken farms three years ago.

She also said the proposed regulations do not go far enough because they allow the state to decide whether to inspect poultry houses and monitor streams and underground water supplies.

The permits could prohibit any runoff of manure into streams but don’t, said Miss Merkel, a former attorney for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“I don’t think it’s aggressive at all,” she continued. “It doesn’t go far enough to protect the Chesapeake Bay, and it reflects that the [state environmental department] isn’t serious about regulating confined animal feeding operations,” said Miss Merkel.

Julie De Young, a spokeswoman for the Maryland-based Perdue Farms, the third-largest chicken company in the country, said the permits proposal is less burdensome than some federal industrial-style discharge permits.

She also said the company will have no problem complying “as long as it’s not overly onerous from an administrative or financial standpoint.”

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