Proposed Phosphorus Regulations in Maryland

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Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has proposed new regulations aimed at reducing phosphorus loads to the Chesapeake Bay.  The regulation would put into place a new Phosphorus Management Tool, which farmers will use to measure phosphorus levels in their soil, and determine how much fertilizer they can put down on their croplands.  Agricultural runoff from the over application of phosphorus-laden fertilizers, including chicken litter, is a major pollutant in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  The new proposed regulation will work to ensure that agricultural lands in Maryland do not have more applied fertilizer than is needed for crop production, and will ultimately help improve the state of the Chesapeake Bay.  My colleagues and I have written a letter, posted below, in support of the this proposed regulation and will be sending it to the Maryland Department of Agriculture.  (The regulation is currently open to comments from the public until the end of the year.)  We are also working on a booklet on the regulation and issue of phosphorus pollution in the Bay, and will update on that in the near future.

December 22, 2014

Mr. Buddy Hance
Secretary
Maryland Department of Agriculture
50 Harry S. Truman Parkway
Annapolis, MD 21401

Dear Mr. Hance:

The purpose of this letter is to support the Department of Agriculture’s implementation of the new Phosphorus Management Tool (PMT) regulation recently proposed by Governor O’Malley. An average of 21.1 million pounds of phosphorus reach the Chesapeake Bay watershed each year, well above the EPA’s “healthy” level of 12.5 million pounds.[1]

Although past efforts to curb nutrient pollution to the Bay have been somewhat effective, by almost any measure, the Chesapeake Bay is still not a healthy body of water. And phosphorus loads from agriculture remain one of the leading sources of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay. In Maryland, phosphorus loads from agriculture accounted for almost 49% of the state’s total phosphorus loads of 3.3 million pounds in 2010.[2]

The new PMT regulation, which specifically targets the use of phosphorus-rich fertilizers and manures on farmlands, is an important step toward cleaning the Chesapeake Bay. This regulation will replace an existing model for measuring phosphorus levels in farm soil with an improved model developed by the University of Maryland.

More significantly, the new regulation will reduce the amount of phosphorus from farmlands entering the Chesapeake Bay by requiring farmers to reduce the application of excess phosphorus to their fields. Currently, farmers use fertilizers and animal manure, both rich in phosphorus, to fertilize their croplands. The regulation will limit the amount of manure that can be applied to farmlands with high phosphorus levels, and in its place require farmers to rely on inorganic fertilizers which do not contain phosphorus. Any remaining unused animal manure will be transported to other farmlands that can utilize the manure under the new restrictions or to nearby manure treatment facilities.

The regulation’s six-year phase-in approach properly addresses concerns among farmers and the agriculture industry that implementation of the regulation would be too economically burdensome. First, the regulation will offer farmers most affected by the regulation the greatest latitude by providing the six-year window to come into compliance with the new restrictions. Second, the state intends to provide incentives and program support of $79 million over the six-year program, which would more than offset its costs, estimated at $22.5 million.[3]

The proposed PMT regulation is part of Maryland’s plan to meet the state’s commitments under the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (Bay TMDL). The Bay TMDL is a regulatory framework issued in December 2010, which is designed to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, with participation from all the states in the Bay watershed.

The Chesapeake Bay is the largest and most productive estuary in the United States. Its economic value is estimated to be over $1 trillion, and a recent Chesapeake Bay Foundation report estimates an additional $4.6 billion of annual economic benefit to Maryland as a result of meeting the TMDL Bay restoration goals.[4] State initiatives, such as the Phosphorus Management Tool regulation, are an important and necessary step toward meeting Maryland’s commitment to restore the health of the Chesapeake.

Neil Saunders                                                            Kathleen Daley

Environmental Analyst                                    Environmental Analyst

[1] http://www.chesapeakebay.net/indicators/indicator/phosphorus_loads_and_river_flow_to_the_bay

[2] http://www.mde.state.md.us/programs/Water/TMDL/TMDLImplementation/Documents/FINAL_PhaseII_Report_Docs/Final_Documents_PhaseII/Final_Phase_II_WIP_MAIN_REPORT_102612.pdf

[3] http://www.dsd.state.md.us/MDRegister/4124.pdf (page 1433)

[4] http://www.cbf.org/document.doc?id=2258.

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