The Chesapeake Bay is shit out of luck.
The state of Maryland planned to tighten the rules on how much chicken manure farmers could spread over their fields — part of an effort to slow the flow of nutrients into the East Coast’s largest estuary. That would have helped reduce the size of the bay’s dead zone, but it would have left the state’s powerful chicken farmers in a smelly bind: What would they do with their copious streams of waste?
On Monday, just two days before a legislative hearing, Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration caved to poultry farm opposition and yanked the proposal — for now. From The Daily Times:
“We heard feedback from the agricultural community as well as environmental groups,” said Julie Oberg, spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Agriculture. “As a result of those concerns raised, we decided to withdraw the request.”
Worcester County farmer and Commissioner Virgil Shockley said he thinks the emergency proposal was withdrawn because of the response from the farming community.
“I think there was an underestimation of the alarm that this would send through the Eastern Shore elected officials and the poultry industry,” he said. “The big question that no one is willing to stand up and answer is ‘What happens when poultry is no longer part of the Eastern Shore and Maryland?’”
Environmentalists are disappointed by the delay but they are being patient — they say they want to make sure the state gets the rules right. And as the Baltimore Sun reports, Maryland’s ag officials have pledged to reintroduce the proposed regulations:
Agriculture Secretary Earl “Buddy” Hance said in a statement that the O’Malley administration wants to give farmers more time to adjust to the changes and intends to resubmit them next month after meeting with “key stakeholders.” The rules, which would have taken effect this fall, would be put off until next year at the earliest.
The stakes are high — the Sun reports that nearly half the farms in the state are “saturated” with phosphorus, a chemical from chicken manure that feeds algae in the bay, killing off all life in a huge swath of the estuary. In fields in the Lower Eastern Shore, which is east of the bay, that figure rises to more than 80 percent. Left unchecked, all that chicken shit could mean shutters for Maryland’s other famous food export: blue crabs, which are already in steep decline. Hope all those buffalo wings are worth it.