- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 18, 2015

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Watchdogs concerned with the health of the Chesapeake Bay found common ground Wednesday with farmers on some changes to Maryland’s long-range plan for managing phosphorous and other fertilizer runoff that pollute the watershed.

The administration of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan confirmed Wednesday that stakeholders from the agricultural and environmental community are agreed on the creation of an advisory committee to be tasked with overseeing and promoting anti-polluting regulations to be put in practice by 2022.

“There has always been agreement on the problem,” Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said. “Now we have agreement on a solution that represents one of the most important steps forward in environmental policy in the last decade.”

Though exact details of the changes hadn’t been released by Wednesday evening, the administration confirmed that farmers would need to have the regulations implemented by 2022, and offered no more than a two-year extension. The 19-member advisory committee would have oversight of the phosphorous pollution plan.

In a joint statement from the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, environmental groups said the “revised regulations represent progress toward reducing pollution from agriculture.”

Phosphorous pollution caused by excess fertilizer on Eastern Shore poultry farms is a major concern for the bay- phosphorous creates algae blooms that hurt aquatic life.

President Barack Obama in 2009 issued an executive order for a bay restoration, triggering agreements between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and states to establish standards and plans to reduce pollution in the bay.

Last month, Hogan introduced his Maryland Agriculture Phosphorous Initiative, which he said built on his predecessor’s plan but would provide a tiered system for farms to build up the necessary infrastructure and resources to meet the phosphorous management requirements.

“The ag community really wanted a relief valve, just in case the infrastructure was not there,” said Lynne Hoot, executive director of Maryland Grain Producers. “What the environmental community was concerned about was this is going to be an excuse. It was just seen as an opportunity for extending” deadlines, she added. “That’s not where the ag community is coming from.”

But the possibility of extending deadlines had environmentalists as well as some lawmakers worried the regulations would never actually go into effect.

Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s County, had proposed legislation to set adoption and implementation deadlines for the regulations, but earlier Wednesday postponed work on the bill in preparation for the stakeholder agreement.

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