After decades of effort, the voluntary, collaborative approach to restoring the health and vitality of the Chesapeake Bay— the largest estuary in the United States—has not worked and, in fact, is failing. A diverse group of 57 senior scientists and policymakers have joined forces to save the Bay. This is our plan.

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Author Archives: Tom Horton

O’Malley Piles On

(Posted by Tom Horton.)

Governor Martin O’Malley presumably thinks he’s helping Maryland poultry growers and processors by pressuring the University of Maryland’s environmental law clinic to drop out of a lawsuit aimed at stopping chicken farms from polluting.

But the pollution is real, it’s substantial and it’s not going to get better until the governor and agricultural interests acknowledge we have a problem with too much poultry manure.

But there is no excess manure, agriculture’s defenders argue; and they are correct in that farmers on Delmarva readily use all the manure they can get because it is a good, cheap fertilizer.

The only reason that works, however, is that the state still doesn’t require honest accounting for the water pollution this causes. The only real accounting is the condition of Eastern Shore rivers, none of which meet environmental standards needed to restore Chesapeake Bay, into which they drain.

When farmers spread manure they must put down enough to satisfy their crops’ need for both nitrogen and phosphorus. Soils in many places don’t need any phosphorus at all, a legacy of decades of overapplying manure, which is richer in phosphorus than nitrogen.

So to give crops enough nitrogen they continue building phosphorus to levels where it runs into rivers and the Chesapeake.

The only way to remedy this, to begin restoring Delmarva waterways, is to stop spreading so much manure on soils that can’t handle more phosphorus. Ironically, Maryland already acknowledges this problem in another venue: state regulations on the spreading of municipal sewage sludges on farm fields have a suite of requirements that prevent the polluting buildup of phosphorus in soils.

These ought to apply to agricultural manure as well. If we decreed that overnight, the tougher regulations would stick farmers with a huge disposal problem, since the poultry companies that supply them with chickens—also with the feed and medicines that go in one end of the birds—deny responsibility for what comes out the other end.

So what to do? First and foremost, acknowledge forthrightly that we have a problem, an excess of manure, a significant pollution problem. Stop the denial. Second, search for every alternative use of manure, for generating power, for making fuels for on farm use, for recycling into soil conditioners. There’s been significant progress here, but a good deal more is needed.

Another way to go is just what has happened. Years of denial and delay have begun to bring forth lawsuits, such as the one filed by the Waterkeepers Alliance against an Eastern Shore poultry farm, with legal support from the University’s environmental law clinic.

The governor’s heavy handed attempt last week to short circuit the university’s involvement in the lawsuit is nothing more than shooting the messenger. It ignores the science and does nothing at all for water quality and the public interest.

The Bay Is Not Improving

(Posted by Tom Horton.)

In recent weeks there’s been a two-pronged push by agricultural interests to credit farmers with already doing most of what’s needed to reduce pollution; also to discredit federal computer modeling that says farmers need to do a lot more to meet the Chesapeake Bay restoration goals.

The extra credit comes courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service; the challenge to EPA’s modeling effort comes in a lawsuit filed by the American Farm Bureau.
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Is Immigration Killing the Chesapeake Bay?

Posted by Tom Horton.

Stand back so you don’t get splattered. I’m going to talk about immigration, and I’m going to get right down in the sewer.

Are immigrants really responsible for degrading the Chesapeake Bay? It’s easier and safer, by far, of course, to say it is too much nitrogen, too much phosphorus, too much sediment, too much clearing and paving and filling—all the usual suspects.

All this, of course, is caused by people, and during the last decade, most of those people were immigrants, both legal and illegal, and their children.Continue Reading