Testimony: Maryland Needs Effective Manure Management Policies to Restore Watersheds

Evan Isaacson

Feb. 23, 2016

Legislative committees in both the Maryland House and Senate are holding hearings this week on the Poultry Litter Management Act, a bill that has been attracting a lot of attention in Maryland and beyond. I have been asked to testify as part of a panel featuring representatives of the United States Geological Survey and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. The focus of my testimony will be the problems posed by farm animal manure – in this case, poultry litter on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. 

You can read the full testimony here, but the crux of it is that the creation of an effective and comprehensive manure management policy is one of the biggest missing pieces in the puzzle that is the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (Bay TMDL). Simply put, addressing the massive nutrient imbalance in areas like Maryland’s Eastern Shore and the greater Delmarva Peninsula caused by the poultry industry would be the most effective and cheapest way to accelerate the Bay’s restoration.

I make three main points:

  • Proper manure management is by far the most important part of the strategy for the agriculture sector.  Maryland’s agriculture sector can rightfully claim to be meeting or exceeding many of the “milestone” goals that the state has established to ensure that it stays on track in meeting the Bay TMDL targets. (More on Maryland’s progress – here in summary, here in full.) At the same time, we know that progress is lagging for the agriculture sector as a whole. Reconciling these two seemingly conflicting statements is simple: The overwhelming source of nutrient pollution is the result of the over-application of animal manure. Solve this problem and you will be in really good shape.
  • The Poultry Litter Management Act goes a long way toward creating a better manure management system.  The bill is designed to consolidate and strengthen the currently way that manure is managed.  The bill consolidates the current bifurcated approach to poultry litter management, whereby a fraction of litter is transported under the state-regulated and -subsidized Manure Transport Program, while the rest is moved around by private entities within a metaphorical black box outside of the view of the public. Under the bill, all excess poultry litter – manure that cannot be safely applied on the operation or adjacent fields – would be subject to clear rules, handled and paid for by the five large poultry companies operating in Maryland, and managed in a way that allows for public oversight.  The bill also establishes significant penalties to ensure that this new system functions as designed.
  • The bill’s requirements represent common sense, good governance, and fiscal prudence.  Maryland is currently projected to achieve its overall nutrient reduction requirements under the Bay TMDL for its first compliance deadline in 2017 only because of the billion dollar investment that the state made in upgrading 67 major wastewater treatment plants. An average sized wastewater treatment plant upgrade costs between $5 and $10 million each and is designed to remove several thousand pounds of phosphorus pollution. That same amount of phosphorus, which costs millions to remove by upgraded wastewater treatment plants, can be generated by just one average size poultry growing operation on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. If the state wants to protect the huge investment of taxpayer dollars that it has committed for the sake of restoring the Bay, then it has to do something to address poultry litter. That something is the Poultry Litter Management Act.

Editor's Note: You can find a live feed and, later, an archived copy of the February 23 Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee hearing (February 23) here, and a link to the February 24 House Environment and Transportation Committee hearing here.

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