Annapolis: Democrats Blast Hogan Silence on Bay Cleanup Cuts as Administration Fires Back

Democrats in Annapolis Thursday railed against Republican Gov. Larry Hogan for not doing enough to protect the Chesapeake Bay under the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to the Bay cleanup plan and under a new EPA administrator historically hostile to environmental regulations.

“The Bay can’t speak for itself obviously and needs a spokesperson,” said Senate President Mike Miller, leading a press conference of House and Senate Democratic leaders. “Obviously the person in the highest office in the state is not speaking out for the Chesapeake Bay, so we’re here to say this Bay is ours, it’s the largest estuary in the world…and we’re going to protect our Chesapeake Bay.”

(The world’s largest estuary, where fresh water combines with saltwater from the ocean, is at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, according to numerous sources. The Chesapeake is the largest in the U.S.)

Miller, whose home overlooks the bay at Chesapeake Beach, said progress has been made to bring back the canvasback duck and rockfish populations and establish oyster sanctuaries “and we’re not going to retreat,” Miller said.

Conspiracy of silence

Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, said the Hogan administration has been guilty of a “conspiracy of silence” since the federal budget came out last week with $73 million in proposed cuts to the Chesapeake Bay cleanup program, which was enacted in 2010 to put the Bay on pollution diet to reduce nutrients flowing into it.

“The program, the resources and the oversight…have been cut and not a word from the second floor,” Pinsky said. “It is a conspiracy of silence and it is guilt of omission.”

“Without that program we are going to slide backwards not only losing that $73 million but the oversight and push from the federal government. Without that we have a major problem,” Pinsky said.

Pinsky said Hogan’s support of a bill to weaken penalties on oyster poachers and the firing of scientists, had become an act of commission. He was referring to the recent firing of Brenda Davis, blue crab fisheries manager at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources who spent 28 years at the agency.

She was supposedly fired for setting limits on the size of crabs that could be harvested after July 15 every year to 5 ¼ inches.

Lawsuit compelled enforcement

Maryland’s Bay cleanup plan was the result of a lawsuit won by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in 2010 that compelled the EPA to enforce the 1972 Clean Water Act. Under a consent decree, states in the Chesapeake Watershed, from New York to Virginia, were required to implement plans to reduce nutrient pollution, bringing the Bay into compliance with the Clean Water Act by 2025.

Kim Coble, the foundation’s vice president for environmental protection and restoration, said the “bay is improving” because of a 35-year state and federal partnership that started with President Ronald Reagan.

“Our ‘State of the Bay’ report this year has the highest reporting level we’ve ever had,” Coble said. “We have improved water clarity and the [population] of oysters and crabs and underwater grasses are coming back. And all of this is at risk.”

Administration pushback

The administration answered the Democratic leadership with a little sarcasm and it defended Hogan’s record on the Bay.

“With two weeks left in the session, we wish that the majority leadership would focus on doing their jobs here in Annapolis instead of focusing on Washington, D.C. partisan politics,” the statement said. “The governor has already made it clear that he will always fight for the Chesapeake Bay and that he opposes hypothetical cuts at the federal level.”

“Our administration will continue to support the Bay at record levels in the state budget, which has included over $3 billion for the Bay since taking office. We are happy to see that the presiding officers have seen the light on Bay restoration funding, given their support for the past administration raiding over $1 billion from restoration efforts.”

“President Miller and Speaker Busch promised that their entire focus this session would be on Washington politics; at least that’s one promise they’ve delivered on.”

Rep. Andy Harris, the only Republican left in the Maryland congressional delegation, said last week: “The Chesapeake Bay is a treasure, and as a member of the Appropriations Committee, I am committed to working with the administration to prioritize programs within the Environmental Protection Agency that would preserve Bay cleanup efforts.”

By Dan Menefee

Oyster Sanctuary Bill finds Support in House of Delegates

The House of Delegates voted 102-39 on Thursday in favor of a bill that would keep intact existing oyster sanctuaries on the Chesapeake Bay, a blow to the commercial fishing industry’s efforts to expand the state’s oyster fisheries.

Supporters and opponents of the bill, named the Oyster Management Plan, are both saying that their solution is best for the long-term health of the bay and its oyster population, which helps clean the Chesapeake by filtering nutrients like excess algae out of the water column.

“(The Oyster Management Plan) protects the fragile progress that has been made to date in recovering oyster populations,” the Chesapeake Bay Foundation said in written testimony to the House Environment and Transportation Committee on Feb. 24. “This bill would in no way impact (the Department of Natural Resource’s) ability to manage the public oyster fishery, including the development of rotational harvest management for public oyster bottom.”

Bill opponents, such as the Clean Chesapeake Coalition, disagreed, saying that harvesting in the sanctuaries is vital to maintaining existing oyster stock in “idle” areas.

“There’s this idea that the sanctuaries would be generating all this oyster larvae,” coalition spokesman Chip MacLeod said to the committee on Feb. 24. “That larvae does no good unless it has a clean, hard bottom to strike. One of the things that doesn’t work with the oyster sanctuary theory is that we don’t have clean, hard bottom (around these sanctuaries).”

Opening parts of the sanctuaries to commercial use, MacLeod said, would remove aging oysters whose environmental usefulness had subsided, and free up space for oyster larvae to flourish.

The Department of Natural Resources, the agency that controls the sanctuaries, opposes the bill.

Opponents point to a 2010-2015 study conducted by the Oyster Advisory Commission, a Natural Resources department subsidiary, that concluded that there is “justification” to adjust current sanctuary boundaries.

“There are sanctuaries that are known to have poor habitat and/or very low densities of oysters,” the advisory commission’s study report said. “If the ultimate goal is to have more oysters in the water, then some areas that are currently sanctuaries could contribute to this goal and provide economic and cultural benefits to fishing communities.”

Conversely, a bill enacted in 2016, the Sustainable Oyster Population and Fishery Act, mandates that the Department of Natural Resources, in conjunction with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, conduct a study to adopt a science-based fishery management plan by 2018. Supporters want to see this study concluded before allowing the department to entertain any ideas of opening sanctuaries to harvest.

Opponents contend that doing so undermines the efforts of the department and its advisory commission.

“The (Oyster Advisory Commission) is doing all of this good work, because the prior administration wouldn’t adopt a management plan,” Delmarva Fisheries Association chairman and waterman Rob Newberry told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service.

Newberry told the Environment and Transportation Committee that the bill would “kill” the management plan adopted by the commission.

Supporters of the bill contend that oyster populations have not recovered enough to sustain themselves without protection.

Citing a self-commissioned poll that found 88 percent of Marylanders support sanctuaries and a 2016 Department of Natural Resources report that found oysters are thriving inside designated sanctuaries but not outside them, the bay foundation said in a press release, “Sanctuaries are Maryland’s insurance policy for the future oyster population. By protecting a small portion of the state’s oyster bottom from harvesting, oysters on the sanctuaries can grow and reproduce.”

The bill was voted on favorably with a couple amendments by the House Environment and Transportation Committee on Tuesday before it moved to the House floor. The amendments would prevent anyone from using the bill to block any sanctuary projects.

The bill is expected to be heard by the Senate in the coming weeks.

By Jack Chavez

Trump bid to Axe Bay Restoration Funding draws Fire

President Donald Trump’s budget outline proposing to defund the Bay Program and slash other programs aiding the Chesapeake restoration drew expressions of dismay this week from those engaged in the long-running effort, along with vows from members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to resist such deep cuts.

Trump’s proposed spending plan, if enacted, would eliminate funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Bay Program Office — from $73 million last year to nothing in fiscal 2018. It would be part of a recommended 31 percent reduction in the budget for the agency, with only the State Department targeted for deeper cuts.

The White House’s budget blueprint also called for sharp decreases in other departments and offices that have contributed to the Bay restoration effort, without giving details of how those might play out in specific programs or initiatives. The administration is planning to release a more detailed spending plan in May.

Environmentalists promptly denounced Trump’s fiscal plan, warning that it could cripple the Bay restoration effort and reverse the gains seen in recent years.

“If this program is eliminated, there is a very real chance that the Bay will revert to a national disgrace,” said Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William Baker, “with deteriorating water quality, unhealthy fish and shellfish, and water-borne diseases that pose a real threat to human health.”

Earlier this year, driven by improvements in blue crabs and other fisheries, underwater grasses and water quality, the Bay Foundation gave the estuary’s ecological health a grade of C-minus, the highest score given in nearly two decades. The CBF report card mirrored recent assessments of modest progress reported by the Bay Program and the University of Maryland.

While the Trump budget has alarmed some Bay advocates, many have noted that Congress, not the president, has the final say on federal spending. They said they hoped that lawmakers would reject the proposed cuts.

The federal government’s support of the Bay cleanup over more than three decades has helped to develop a “world-class expertise” in managing large ecosystems, which in turn has inspired and guided other restoration efforts, said Donald Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

“It’s just unconscionable that Congress would let that all slip away by terminating it,” Boesch said in a telephone news conference arranged by the Bay Foundation.

Several members of Congress representing portions of the Bay watershed pledged to fight to maintain the Bay Program funding. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-MD, called Trump’s proposal to eliminate it “wrong and outrageous.” And he questioned how that squared with Trump’s campaign pledge to build the nation’s economy and create more jobs.

“The Chesapeake Bay creates $1 trillion in our economy,” Ruppersberger said, across the six-state watershed. “These are jobs in fishing, farming, boating and tourism.”

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-MD, a member of the Senate’s Budget and Appropriations committees, issued a statement saying the proposed cuts “seriously damage our efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay — and threaten the jobs that depend on a healthy Bay ecosystem.”

And Sen. Ben Cardin, D-MD, one of the Bay’s staunchest advocates in Congress over the years, called on the body to “quickly reject” Trump’s budget “before the absurdity of his cuts . . . causes ripples of uncertainty and fear across the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed economy.”

Members of Trump’s own party joined Democrats in challenging the Bay Program cuts, though generally with less saber rattling. Reps. Andy Harris, R-MD, whose district borders the Bay, and Rep. Scott Taylor, R-VA, whose district covers portions of Hampton Roads and the Virginia Eastern Shore, indicated that they would try to keep federal funds flowing to the restoration effort. Both had joined three other Republicans and 12 Democrats from Bay watershed states in a letter to the White House more than two weeks ago urging it to keep the current funding of $73 million next year.

“We do not support reductions in the cleanup,” said a spokesman for Taylor. A spokeswoman for Harris issued a statement saying he would work with the Trump administration to “to prioritize programs within the Environmental Protection Agency that would preserve [the] Bay cleanup effort.”

Their support for the Bay restoration effort is significant because both sit on the House Appropriations Committee, which in coordination with the Senate panel on which Van Hollen serves, will draw up the actual federal spending plans.

Even so, Trump’s spending blueprint presents a challenge, as it calls for the federal government to back off from environmental efforts like the Bay restoration. “The Budget returns the responsibility for funding local environmental efforts and programs to State and local entities, allowing EPA to focus on its highest national priorities,” explained a summary of the president’s budget that was posted online.

Also targeted for elimination was federal funding for restoration of the Great Lakes, Puget Sound and other compromised watersheds.

That view of the federal role in the Bay’s restoration represents a radical shift from the stance taken by every president since Ronald Reagan, who in 1984 declared the Chesapeake a “treasured national resource.” Reagan called for a sizable boost in the EPA’s budget, in part to begin “the long, necessary effort” to clean up the Bay. The Bay Program, which operates as a partnership between states and the federal government, was created the year before, when the EPA administrator signed the first of several agreements pledging to work with the Bay watershed states and the District of Columbia to deal with pollution degrading the estuary’s water quality and fish populations.

Funding for the EPA’s Bay Program Office has ticked up or down from year to year, but has increased overall since then. Along the way, Congress wrote the Bay Program into law, spelling out the EPA’s responsibilities to coordinate the efforts of other federal agencies and of the states in reducing pollution and restoring the estuary’s living resources. Jon Mueller, the Bay Foundation’s vice president for litigation, said he thinks that the federal government can’t legally walk away from its statutory obligations to support the Bay Program. But he acknowledged that other legal experts believe Congress can’t be compelled to fund programs like this, even if supposedly required by law.

The White House’s proposed elimination of Bay Program Office funding comes despite praise that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt lavished on it during his Senate confirmation hearing in January. Under questioning from Cardin, Pruitt called it “something that should be commended and celebrated.” He pledged to enforce the Bay pollution reduction plan EPA had worked out with the states, and to see that the effort continued to get federal resources.

Asked how Trump’s budget blueprint squares with Pruitt’s Senate testimony, an EPA spokeswoman emailed a statement saying it “reflects the President’s priorities of preserving clean air and water as well as to ease the burden of costly regulations to industry. Administrator Pruitt is committed to leading the EPA in a more effective, more focused, less costly way as we partner with states to fulfill the agency’s core mission.”

The loss of $73 million for the Bay Program would be significant in itself, but the impact of Trump’s overall proposed EPA budget cuts would go far beyond that, as the agency spent an additional $121 million on other water-related grant programs in the watershed last year, some of which may also face cuts. The largest of those is the EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund, which made $102 million in low-cost loans to states last year for projects that improve water infrastructure.

While not facing outright cuts, the revolving loan fund would likely have less money to spend in the watershed. The Trump administration would end a $498 million grant program under the U.S. Department of Agriculture that pays for improvements to rural communities’ water and wastewater infrastructure. Instead, the budget would have rural areas compete for the EPA funds — so the money available for water infrastructure would effectively be spread among a larger group of communities.

Although the most severe cuts would fall on the EPA, other federal departments that play a role in Chesapeake Bay restoration also face double-digit reductions. Altogether, federal agencies provided $536 million for Bay-related projects in 2016, helping to fund everything from wastewater treatment plant upgrades and farm runoff controls to oyster reef construction and wetland restoration.

In the budget plan, though, the U.S. Department of Agriculture faces a 21 percent cut, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 16 percent, and the Department of the Interior 12 percent.

In many cases, the budget provides little detail about how hard various programs would be hit, but the Interior Department’s land acquisition money, which has been used to help purchase sensitive areas around the Bay in recent years, would be slashed.

At the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, $250 million would be cut from grants supporting coastal and marine management, research and education. Among the areas slated for elimination is NOAA’s Sea Grant program, which provides about $4 million annually in Bay-related research and education efforts.

In that context, the EPA’s Bay Program funding accounts for just about 14 percent of the annual federal spending on the Chesapeake. But the Bay Foundation’s Baker called it a “linchpin” of the overall restoration effort. Roughly two-thirds of the $73 million in this year’s budget goes to state and local governments in the form of grants to aid their cleanup efforts. The rest supports things such as water-quality monitoring to measure the efficacy of cleanup efforts, computer modeling to help inform cleanup plans, and the activities of nonprofit groups to encourage public engagement in the restoration. (A portion of Bay Journal funding comes from a Bay Program grant.)

Environmentalists said cuts in EPA funding would hurt the ability of states to carry out a wide range of environmental programs, including those related to the Bay.
“Essentially they are saying they are going to turn over more authority to the states, and then cut the amount of money for the states to do it,” said Scott Slesinger, legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection echoed that concern in a letter it sent to Pruitt on Thursday, which said the state agency relies heavily on federal funding to implement air and water pollution control programs.

Cutting the EPA Bay Program funds, the DEP said, would hurt the state’s ability to pay for pollution control efforts on Pennsylvania’s farms, where the state has tried to focus its lagging nutrient control efforts.

“These budget cuts do not reduce any of the responsibilities that DEP has to the people of Pennsylvania, but does decrease the resources available to fulfill those responsibilities,” DEP Acting Secretary Patrick McDonnell wrote. “These cuts, if enacted, would harm businesses seeking permits, and harm residents’ clean water, air, and land.”

CBF’s Baker said he’s worried that the loss of federal funds may result in a loss of “political will” in state houses and city halls to increase spending. And UM’s Boesch noted that much of the federal largesse for the Bay restoration effort comes in the form of matching grants.

“If the federal funds go away,” Boesch said, “the thought that we could go back and get state governments to double or triple investments is just naïve, given the budget issues they’re dealing with.”

Even if, as many expect, Congress dismisses Trump’s budget as too extreme, environmentalists said they worry it could give lawmakers cover to slash environmental programs much more than they have in the past.

“The real danger here is not that Congress will approve these numbers, it’s clear that they won’t,” said David Goldston, director of government affairs with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The danger is that people start taking it seriously as a point of negotiation.”

Timothy B. Wheeler is managing editor and project writer for the Bay Journal. He has more than two decades of experience covering the environment for The Baltimore Sun and other media outlets. Bay Journal editor Karl Blankenship contributed to this article.

Bill may Ban Foam ‘to-go’ Carriers from Food Businesses in Maryland

All expanded polystyrene products used for packaging food products, including foam carriers, could be banned from all Maryland food businesses if pending legislation is passed in the General Assembly this session.

The legislation, sponsored in the House by Delegate Brooke Lierman, D-Baltimore, will prohibit a person or business from selling or providing food in an expanded polystyrene food service product beginning Jan. 1, according to a Department of Legislative Services fiscal analysis. The bill, which has also been cross-filed in the state Senate, also bans the sale and use of loose fill packaging.

The fiscal analysis defines the banned material as “a product made of expanded polystyrene that is used for selling or providing food.” This means the bill would ban food containers, plates, hot and cold beverage cups, meat and vegetable trays and egg cartons made of expanded polystyrene.

“Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) is the generic industry name for the white rigid material made by expanding polystyrene beads with steam and pressure to bond the beads together to form blocks or to shape molds,” according to Universal Foam Products.

Styrofoam, a registered trademark and a type of expanded polystyrene, is not included in the bill, according to the Department of Legislative Services report. “Although foam coffee cups and plates are often referred to as ‘Styrofoam®,’ that terminology is incorrect,” the fiscal analysis said. Styrofoam is generally used in industrial settings for building materials and pipe insulation, according to the report.

Lierman said in a Feb. 15 House Environment and Transportation Committee hearing that this bill is an extension of a concept that has already been enacted in some areas. Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, the city of Gaithersburg and the city of Takoma Park have prohibitions on expanded polystyrene already in place.

Dr. Richard Bruno, a doctor of medicine who works at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, gave written testimony Feb. 15 in support of the bill, saying styrene, a chemical found in expanded polystyrene, is a threat to health, waterways and ecosystems.

Delegate Al Carr, D-Montgomery, said it is important to make this a statewide ban because it is a statewide issue and the ban has been successful locally.

“Businesses and government agencies have been able to adapt and have not seen an increase in their costs,” Carr said. “I have been receiving many emails from constituents in favor of the bill.”

“It is important to make it a statewide ban so that the prices of alternative products go down,” Lierman told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service. Lierman pointed to California, saying when businesses there made the transition to stock alternative recyclables the prices changed. “(Expanded polystyrene) is now more expensive than recyclable products in California,” Lierman said.

Restaurants, fast food restaurants, cafes, supermarkets or grocery stores, vending trucks or carts, movie theaters, and business or institutional cafeterias would all be food service businesses affected by this bill, according to the fiscal analysis.

“Enacting a statewide ban on polystyrene foodservice packaging will level the playing field for businesses across the state,” Nick Rudolph, President of Pigtown Main Street in Baltimore, said in his testimony to the House committee.

Dart Container Corp., a national company that manufactures cups, plates, containers, lids and straws made from such materials as expanded polystyrene foam, solid polystyrene, polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate, paper and sugar cane, opposes the bill.

Dart employs 630 Marylanders with another 50 open positions in high-paying, rural manufacturing jobs, according Paul Poe, Government Affairs and the Environment Manager at Dart. Poe said Dart is also planning to open a third facility in the state, in Havre de Grace.

Poe specified in testimony that expanded polystyrene is recyclable and Dart has created a program to accept expanded polystyrene items and recycle them with drop-off and pick-up options.

Delegate Christopher Adams, R-Caroline, Dorchester, Talbot and Wicomico, said in the House committee meeting that Dart’s stance on the bill should be considered. Since the company creates jobs for Marylanders, the state should do no harm to the company, Adams said.

“This bill is our hope for a cleaner and healthier future, to neighborhoods with less toxic trash, air and water,” Claire Wayner, a high school junior at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute in Baltimore County and founding member of Baltimore Beyond Plastic, an organization created to teach students the problems with plastics like polystyrene and elevate their reactions against it, said in her Feb. 15 testimony to the House Environment and Transportation Committee.

“At Baltimore City public schools, lunch is served on polystyrene trays, and as many students are economically disadvantaged, it’s not possible to refuse a lunch … when it may be your only food you’ll see that day,” Wayner said.

“Baltimore City schools serve daily lunch on EPS trays to 83,000 students a year,” according to a Baltimore Office of Sustainability Feb. 15 letter.

“Using compostable paper trays, plates, and other containers in place of EPS would make food recovery efforts much more feasible, because users can simply place their tray and all leftover food directly into a compost container, rather than having to separate out trash and compost,” the organization said in its letter.

“Around 1 percent of the trash properly disposed of and sent to landfills is expanded polystyrene, but up to 40 percent of litter found in and along water streams is expanded polystyrene,” according to Lierman. “That shows the disproportionate amount of (expanded polystyrene) that is recycled and littered.”

Prince George’s County Department of the Environment Director Adam Ortiz told the House committee it costs $60 per ton to process expanded polystyrene food products, but when they are able to compost the alternative recyclable products, they make money.

Baltimore City, Caroline, Howard and Washington counties accept polystyrene plastics for recycling, but the rest of the Maryland jurisdictions do not, according to the analysis.

“Growing up in neighborhoods that are full of trash, it’s hard to not self-identify with the image of trash,” Wayner said in her testimony.

“Forcing businesses to use alternative products does not reduce litter; it simply changes in composition,” Melvin Thompson, senior vice president of the Maryland Restaurant Association said in a Feb. 15 letter to the committee.

Lierman said that she understands people who litter with foam containers will probably continue to litter with alternatives, but the alternatives are better for the environment and easier to pick up than the expanded polystyrene products.

There are also health risks for consumers who use expanded polystyrene containers, according to Lierman. When expanded polystyrene is heated, it leaches styrene into the food or liquid that is in the containers, Lierman said.

“Styrene, the main ingredient in (expanded polystyrene), has been listed as a possible carcinogen by both the International Agency for Research on cancer and the National Toxicology Program since 2002,” Bruno wrote in his testimony.

“The general public is exposed to 20 mg of styrene annually,” according to Bruno. “This toxin has no place in our bodies, schools, restaurants or homes.”

But the American Chemistry Council referred to a 2013 study completed by the Plastics Foodservice Packaging Group in its Feb. 15 written testimony that said “current exposures to styrene from the use of polystyrene food contact products remain extremely low, with the estimated daily intake calculated at 6.6 micrograms per person per day.”

“This is more than 10,000 times below the safety limit set by the FDA,” the organization said. “The FDAs acceptable daily intake value of styrene is calculated to be 90,000 micrograms per person per day.”

The fiscal analysis said the effect on small businesses and the state will be minimal. There will be an increased cost to the state of $19,300 in the 2018 fiscal year in order to conduct the education and outreach campaign, but will decrease to zero after one year.

“County health departments must enforce the bill’s prohibitions and may impose a penalty of up to $250 on violators,” according to the fiscal analysis. Health departments must issue a written notice of the business’ or person’s violation and allow three months to correct the violation before a fine can be issued.

By Cara Newcomer

Finally Some Good News from PA; Farmers have Stepped up to Curb Pollution

or several years, regulators and environmental watchdogs have been sounding the alarm about Pennsylvania agriculture’s lagging pace in meeting its Chesapeake Bay cleanup goals. For nearly as long, Pennsylvania farmers have been telling the government that they have been putting in a lot of pollution-controlling practices, but they weren’t getting credit for them.

So in 2016 the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection sought to determine who was right. Working with the Penn State Survey Research Center, environmental officials sent questionnaires to the state’s farmers.

A total of 6,782 farmers — 35 percent of the 20,000 farmers to whom the survey was mailed — answered the questions. They included information about how many best management practices were in place and where they were. To verify the information, the Penn State researchers visited 700 farms, about 10 percent of the respondents, to inspect.

So, who was right? Turns out, maybe both.

Patrick McDonnell, the state’s acting environmental protection secretary, said the farmers are clearly putting in practices that had not been accounted for previously. Among them, he said, are more than 2,000 barnyard runoff control systems that had not been counted in the Chesapeake Bay Program’s models. These systems help keep animal manure from washing into streams and rivers. The farmers also reported installing 1 million linear feet of fencing along streams, which was more than expected.

Still, it’s not enough, McDonnell said.

“We still have a big hill to climb in meeting our Bay obligations,” he said in a December webinar to report the Penn State survey results, which included several other environmental and agricultural officials. McDonnell said that the survey will help with that climb. Regulators, researchers and the specialists who install buffers and manure-management systems will now be able to get more complete data on what farmers are already doing to curb pollution.

“We can have a general understanding of what is happening out there,” he added.
Russ Redding, Pennsylvania’s agriculture secretary, called the survey an “unprecedented” effort to listen to the state’s farmers.

“We have taken a concern that has been raised in the agriculture community for some time,” Redding said, “and today we know more about what that concern is, what it looks like.”

Matthew Royer, director of Penn State’s Agriculture and Environment Center, which oversaw the survey, said researchers will continue to collect and analyze information gathered from farmers. For example, Royer said he did not know how many Plain Sect farmers had participated, or what practices they were most likely to put in, but he said researchers could find that out as they examined the results more closely.

All of the pollution reduction steps farmers have taken appear to be having some effect in the Susquehanna River, says Rich Batiuk, associate director for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program office.

“I never thought I would see it in my 30 years here, but for the first time, the amount of nitrogen is heading down,” Batiuk says. “We have a grass bed in the Susquehanna Flats that you can see from space. Pennsylvania farmers can take a lot of credit for that particular work.”

Despite such signs of progress, the Bay Program’s computer modeling indicates that the state still has a long way to go. Last year, the Bay Journal reported that an EPA review said that Pennsylvania needed to double the number of farm acres under nutrient management and plant seven times as many acres of forest and grass buffers as it did in 2014 to help it get back on track to meet Bay nutrient pollution reduction targets.

In the next three years, the 2015 report stated, Pennsylvania would have to reduce nitrogen loads almost four times as much as the rest of the watershed states combined to meet the goals set for the end of 2017. To assist with that effort, federal and state officials in October announced a $28 million aid package to focus on farm runoff.

Harry Campbell, Pennsylvania executive director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, says he is glad to see farmers are doing the right thing for the local waterways and using their own money to do it.

But, he adds, “with over 6,700 miles of rivers and streams impaired by agriculture, the work is far from over in Pennsylvania.”

Bay Journal staff writer Rona Kobell is a former reporter for the Baltimore Sun.

Ecosystem: Midshore Riverkeepers in Talbot County Classrooms as well as Rivers

No doubt, the most visible and every present sign of the Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy’s work is when one spots their clearly-identified patrol boats on the Choptank, Miles or Wye Rivers. For almost ten years, the MRC has made it their mission to advocate and protect those rivers through careful monitoring and partnerships with farmers and watermen in the region.

But that is only half of the story of what the MRC does in Talbot County. As an organization committed as much to education as to conservation, the Riverkeeper Conservancy has been working for the last four years with Talbot County Public Schools to bring a unique awareness and appreciation to its students.

The Spy wanted to see firsthand what kind of educational programming this looked like and quickly jumped at an invitation to observe MRC education coordinators Elle O’Brien and Suzanne Sullivan at St. Michaels Middle High School last week on oyster harvesting. Hosted by science teacher Lauren Greer’s 9th-grade environmental education class, the two MRC staffers work with students in the classroom, as well as outside, to learn the importance of sustainability over the semester.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information on the Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy please go here.

 

Maryland’s Veteran Crab Manager Fired after Watermen Complain to Hogan

Maryland’s veteran manager of the state’s blue crab fishery was fired this week after a group of watermen complained to Gov. Larry Hogan about a catch regulation that they contend hurts their livelihood — but that scientists say is needed to ensure a sustainable harvest.

Brenda Davis, crab program manager for the Department of Natural Resources and a 28-year state employee, said she was informed Tuesday that her services were no longer needed.

In an interview Wednesday, Davis said DNR Fisheries Director Dave Blazer gave no reason for her summary dismissal. But it came after Hogan met last week with about a dozen Dorchester County watermen who had been pressing Davis and the DNR for a change in a long-time regulation setting the minimum catchable size for crabs.

“I was totally shocked. It was totally unexpected,” Davis said yesterday. “I was really surprised and a bit disappointed, given my time there, that re-assignment wasn’t an option, because I think I’m going to be short on being able to do full retirement.”

A spokeswoman for the governor declined to comment. A DNR spokesman likewise said officials would not comment on a personnel matter.

For the last two years, a small but vocal group of Maryland watermen in lower Dorchester County have been asking DNR managers to allow the catch of smaller male crabs. The department has the flexibility to change regulations if conditions warrant, and they rely on an annual winter dredge survey of crabs to determine the size of the crab population and how much fishing pressure it might sustain.

The smaller crab size is part of a suite of restrictions in effect since 2001, Davis said, when managers sought to reduce the crabbing effort by 15 percent because the population was showing strain. During the first part of crabbing season, watermen can legally harvest male crabs if their pointed shells are at least 5 inches across from tip to tip. That minimum size is in effect from April 1, when the season opens, until July 14. On July 15, the minimum catchable size increases to 5 ¼ inches.

That seemingly slight increase gives male crabs more time in the water to molt and grow. It also significantly increases their chances of mating with female crabs so they can sustain the Bay’s population of the iconic crustacean, according to Tom Miller, a crab scientist who is director of the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

Blue crabs are the Bay’s most valuable fishery, and landings by Maryland watermen — which reached 26.7 million pounds in 2015, the most recent year for which figures are available — have a cumulative dockside value of tens of millions of dollars.

But in 2008 the crab population and harvest dipped so low that the federal government issued a disaster declaration for the fishery, and Maryland and Virginia regulators alike imposed tighter catch limits, aimed primarily at protecting females so they could reproduce and rebuild the stock. Crab numbers have rebounded to more sustainable levels, and some of the restrictions have been eased.

Dorchester watermen have lobbied both the DNR and the governor’s office for the change to 5 inches change. Davis said the Dorchester contingent said it was willing to negotiate, but the likely harm to the crab population from easing the rule was deemed so great that the options for offsetting the impact — closing the crab season early or starting later — were “not attractive.” The Dorchester watermen were not interested, Davis said.

When Hogan met with the group of about a dozen watermen last week, they again expressed their disappointment. Scott Todd, a leader in the Dorchester County watermen community and second vice president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association, attended the meeting. He said the watermen told the governor that the DNR, and Davis in particular, were not willing to meet them even part way.

Todd said the male size regulation was “devastating” to watermen in Dorchester County, because smaller crabs are the only ones running in their area that time of year.

He said they had offered to accept some sort of compromise, such as letting watermen continue catching 5-inch crabs for another six weeks, until the end of August. And then they dropped the request to just four weeks. Again, Todd said, the answer was no. It was, he said, just one “bang-your head-meeting [after] another.”

Todd said the governor seemed surprised about the rancor, but “he just said, ‘I’m listening.’”

Hogan, a Republican, had run on a pledge to end what he called his Democratic predecessor’s “war on watermen,” and he has made changes in the past based on their concerns. Responding to watermen’s call for change, the Hogan administration shook up the DNR, reassigning the manager of the department’s oyster fishery and restoration efforts and firing the fisheries director. Watermen had complained about both.

Then in late 2015, three watermen met with Maryland Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford to complain about a federally funded oyster reef restoration project in the Tred Avon River on the Eastern Shore. Natural Resources Secretary Mark Belton subsequently asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to hold up the project while DNR staff reviewed it and other restoration efforts. After a year, the project was eventually restarted.

Todd said in an interview that he thought that the Dorchester watermen had offered reasonable compromises.

“I never had anything personal against Brenda,” Todd said. “I don’t want to see anyone fired, but if she had to go to make the lives of 4,000 or 5,000 people a little bit better, I don’t see that we didn’t have a right to complain about it.”
The DNR has not announced any changes to the minimum size limits.
Charles County crabber Billy Rice, who chairs the DNR’s Tidal Fisheries Advisory Commission and has been involved in blue crab policy for decades, said the data from the annual winter dredge survey showed that changing the minimum catchable size would harm the crab population, and would not bring watermen any overall economic benefit. Many watermen like harvesting larger crabs, because they fetch better prices and more income.
The DNR’s Blue Crab Industry Advisory Committee, which includes watermen, recommended against the Dorchester-based pleas to change the rule because the conservation givebacks required to make up the difference were so extreme they would have harmed the whole industry, Davis said.

In an interview Wednesday, Rice said he sent an email to Hogan’s deputy chief of staff, Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, expressing his “great disappointment” at Davis’s firing. He said Davis went above and beyond to help commercial watermen and processors.

“Brenda was a great person, and a great employee, and this was a simply a case of shooting the messenger,” Rice said.

Thomas O’Connell, the fisheries director who was fired in 2015, said in his experience at the DNR, any decision on whether to change crabbing regulations would have to be approved by Davis’s supervisors, including the current fisheries chief, Blazer, and the DNR secretary.

O’Connell said Davis “brought an incredible level of transparency to blue crab management.” The winter dredge survey numbers don’t come out until April, which is late to make changes for the season because it begins April 1.

So, he said, Davis would begin to meet with the industry while the survey was progressing, and ask them what they would like to see if the population reached certain targets. It allowed them to manage based on their preferences should there be an abundance, within reason, and prescribe the pain that might be coming if there was a shortage. On the table were issues such as size, gear and length of day. It took a lot of time and required a lot of night meetings and occasionally long drives, O’Connell said, but Davis was always willing to do it.

“I have observed her commitment and sacrifices over the years to ensure that Maryland blue crabs are managed sustainably,” O’Connell said. “And then a couple of watermen can have a meeting with the governor and turn around and really screw up her life.”

Asked about her greatest accomplishment in 28 years at DNR, Davis said it’s been the relationship she helped build with the crabbing industry through the dredge survey and data-sharing.

“That survey put us on the watermen’s boats, and we have fostered a much better relationship with the industry. They have a much better understanding of what we do, and we have a much better understanding of what they do,” she said.

Of the minimum crab size rule, she added: “It was a department decision. I just got to be the person to say it.”

Bay Journal staff writer Rona Kobell is a former reporter for the Baltimore Sun.

Bay Grass Restoration Threatened by Warming, Scientists Say

The Bay region is unlikely to meet its underwater grass restoration goals unless it clears up the Chesapeake’s water beyond what is now targeted, scientists warned in a recent journal article.

If more action is not taken, they warn that eelgrass — the primary underwater grass species found in high-salinity portions of the Bay — may face a “catastrophic” decline in the Chesapeake because of a combination of warming temperatures and murky water.

As a consequence, they predict populations of blue crabs and many other fish will also decline as areas with once-lush grass beds convert to muddy bottoms. They project that the resulting economic impacts from that loss of habitat could reach $1.5 billion to $2.5 billion annually.

Nor is it only a problem for the future, the scientists said in a paper published in the journal Global Change Biology in early February. Over the last half-century, eelgrass has been eliminated from nearly half the area it once occupied in the Bay. It rebounded slightly in the late 1980s, but since 1991 — a period when grass beds have come back in many other areas — eelgrass acreage has declined 29 percent.

“It is happening now, and it is happening rapidly,” warned Jonathan Lefcheck, a post-doctoral researcher at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, and lead author of the paper.

Underwater grass beds are one of the most critical habitats found in the Bay. They provide shelter for juvenile crabs and fish, as well as food for waterfowl. They also protect shorelines from the erosive force of waves, and help filter sediment and nutrients out of the water.

Like all plants, underwater grasses need sunlight to survive. In the wake of Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972, grass beds suffered dramatic declines as the Bay filled with sediment and nutrient-fueled algae blooms, hitting a low point of 38,000 acres in 1983.

Since then, grass species in general have made a comeback in many places, reaching 92,315 acres throughout the Chesapeake and its tidal rivers in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available. That’s about half of the Baywide goal of 185,000 acres, which is based on observations made in the decades prior to Agnes.

Eelgrass, though, has declined. That’s a concern because unlike grass species that thrive in the low-salinity waters of the Upper Bay, eelgrass is the only seagrass that can survive in much of the lower, saltier Chesapeake. In most high-salinity areas of the Bay, there is nothing that can take its place. The paper pins eelgrass loss on two factors: loss of water clarity and warming water temperatures.

In many of the eelgrass-dominated areas, water clarity has generally worsened since 1997, the paper says. Eelgrass was once commonly found at depths of more than 1 meter, but murkier water means plants no longer get enough sunlight to survive at such depths.

Meanwhile, gradually warming water temperatures are adding stress to the plants, which are near the southern edge of their range in the Bay. Eelgrass does not tolerate hot temperatures and it suffered sharp diebacks after hot summers in 2005 and 2010.

In effect, scientists say, poor water clarity is squeezing eelgrass into shallower areas, but those are also warmer.

Further, there is not enough shallow water habitat available to restore historic levels of underwater grass in high salinity areas where eelgrass is the dominant — and typically only — species, says David Wilcox, a data analyst at VIMS who was a co-author of the paper.

“Unless we get the deep beds back, it would be hard to drive that up,” he says. “It is hard to imagine getting that deeper grass without the clarity that would support that.”

Scientists say they expect further decreases if past trends continue. The paper says that the impact of warming temperatures alone in the next 30 years would lead to a further 38 percent decline in eelgrass cover. Similarly, if water clarity trends in the Lower Bay remain unchanged, eelgrass would decline 84 percent. If both trends continue, 95 percent of eelgrass beds would be lost in the Chesapeake in 30 years, the paper says.

Such a loss would reverberate throughout the ecosystem, as there is no other species that would fill the void, resulting in declines of blue crabs, silver perch and a host of other species highly dependent on grass beds in the lower Bay.

“If you’re a guy who wants to take his son fishing on the weekend, you can expect a lot fewer fish out there,” Lefcheck said. “The eelgrass habitat is going away, so all these critters are going to have no place to live.”

Scientists also worry that a catastrophic loss may not be decades away. Eelgrass suffered huge diebacks in the aforementioned hot summers: 55 percent after 2005 and 41 percent after 2010.
In both cases, the beds rebounded, but scientists say that likely would not be the case if there are two consecutive hot years — the odds of which increase as average temperatures continue to rise.

The reason eelgrass might die back permanently with a prolonged hot spell stems from the method by which it reproduces. It has root-like structures called rhizomes, which produce new shoots that spread over the bottom, but if the plant is killed in late summer, when water temperatures are at their warmest, the rhizomes die too.

Eelgrass beds also produce seeds in the spring, which can still produce a recovery the following year even if the plants die during the summer. But if a plant-killing heat spell hits for a second year in a row, neither the seeds nor the rhizomes would be available to spur a comeback in the third year.

In fact, that appears to be what happened at an eelgrass restoration site in the Piankatank River during two consecutive hot growing seasons in the early 1990s, says Bob Orth, a longtime underwater grass researcher at VIMS and co-author of the paper.

“Because there were no seeds, in that third year there were no plants left in the Piankatank,” Orth says, noting that the eelgrass has been largely absent from the river since. “We had an open window into what could happen if we had significant Baywide heat events back-to-back.”

The paper has significant implications for Bay cleanup efforts. Chesapeake Bay water clarity standards are designed to return underwater grass abundances similar to those observed the mid-1900s throughout the Bay. Meeting those clarity requirements requires nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment reductions to ensure that enough light reaches grasses to allow their return.

But, scientists say, those clarity goals never accounted for the impact of warming temperatures on eelgrass.

Eelgrass can withstand “moderate increases in temperature,” the paper says, but only if water was clearer than in the past, so plants would not have to work as hard to get energy from the sun — thereby offsetting some of the stress on the plant caused by the heat.

“We’re pretty certain that if we want eelgrass to return to its previous habitat, you are going to have to get more clarity,” Orth says. “It is a physiological fact.”

Rich Batiuk, associate director for science with the EPA’s Bay Program Office, says that before water clarity standards can be changed, scientists need to determine just how much clearer water would need to be to support the eelgrass restoration in the face of warming temperatures. Then, he says, the state-federal Bay Program partnership would have to determine whether those goals are achievable.

“We may have to rethink what is possible in a Chesapeake that is going to have warmer summers in Virginia’s portion of the Bay,” Batiuk says.

That sets up a tough choice for the region, he added, because losing eelgrass in the Lower Bay would have consequences for the entire ecosystem. For instance, juvenile crabs that find shelter in eelgrass beds later spread throughout the Chesapeake.
“One change there can reverberate around the system, not just in Virginia itself, because it is such an integrated system,” Batiuk says.

Besides Lefcheck, Wilcox and Orth, other authors on the paper include Rebecca Murphy of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, and Scott Marion, of the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife.

By Karl Blankenship

Karl Blankenship is editor of the Bay Journal and executive director of Chesapeake Media Service. He has served as editor of the Bay Journal since its inception in 1991. 

Annapolis: Deforestation, Fracking Bills Spark Rallies before Hearing

Support for forest protection and opposition to hydraulic fracturing sparked two different rallies Wednesday, just before the House Environment and Transportation Committee heard testimony on three related bills. 
 
Two of the bills would ban and criminalize hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The other would require developers to replant an acre of trees for every acre of forest they clear.
 
All three bills force lawmakers to confront issues that feature business interests on one side and environmental protection interests on the other. 
 
Activists organized a “Fight for the Forests” rally less than an hour before the committee’s Wednesday afternoon meeting. The rally attracted supporters from all over the state.
 
“Under the Forest Conservation Act currently, the way the replacement values work, it guarantees that development is going to operate at a net loss of forest,” Chesapeake Bay Foundation staff attorney Elaine Lutz told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service. “(Under the current regulations) developers are subject to minimal planting requirements … that essentially comes out to one acre replanted for every four acres cleared—if that.”
 
Maryland has lost 14,480 acres of forest over the last eight years, according to data provided by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
“The FCA does not cover all forest in Maryland,” Lutz said. “It typically covers the areas that are in our urban and suburban communities, and those are the forests that are the most susceptible to being lost to development without replacement.”
 
The majority of acres cleared and lost comes from the district of Delegate Anne Healey, D-Prince George’s, who is sponsoring the bill. In Prince George’s County alone, more than 9,000 acres were cleared and less than 2,000 were replanted during the same time span, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s data.
 
The committee also heard testimony on Wednesday from Sen. Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo, D-Montgomery, and numerous supporters and opponents of a pair of bills that would ban and criminalize the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in Maryland.
 
A couple dozen supporters of legislation banning fracking congregated outside the House of Delegates office building Wednesday afternoon. They held signs and banners and waved at drivers passing by, many of whom waved and honked at them. 
 
A state moratorium on fracking is set to expire in October. With that deadline approaching, legislators in both Maryland’s House and the Senate have introduced bills that would permanently ban the practice in the state.
 
“This session is the last chance for Maryland legislators to step up and protect the health, environment and tourism economy from the dangers of fracking once and for all,” Jackie Filson, field communications officer for D.C.-based consumer rights group Food & Water Watch, told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service. “We’re looking to House delegates to act now and support (these bills) for a permanent, statewide fracking ban.”
 
Lawmakers and activists seek to not only ban fracking in the state, citing concerns about environmental effects, but criminalize the practice, for further deterrence, under a separate bill. 
 
“If you frack in Maryland, you will go to jail (under the bill). That’s a completely different message than (writing a check) to make the problem go away,” Fraser-Hidalgo said.
 
Some of the individuals who oppose a fracking ban say that the people against the process are people who by and large aren’t from the areas where hydraulic fracturing would take place.
 
“I represent exclusively the area where fracking would occur,” said Delegate Wendell Beitzel, R-Garrett and Allegany. “This country has been fracking since 1947, and it’s been a real game changer. Folks in the rest of the state (who are for a ban) don’t fully understand (the benefits). 
 
Beitzel said last week he feels the concerns over health and environmental risks are overblown, and that the regulations Maryland would impose on fracking businesses are more than enough to mitigate any potential hazards.
 
“The ban is overkill,” Beitzel continued. “The anti-fracking publicity in itself has hurt tourism to Western Maryland more than (actual drilling) could.”
 
By Jack Chavez

Irish Firm Brings Renewable Energy to Eastern Shore Poultry Industry

Bob Murphy’s Double Trouble Farms may be the most cutting-edge poultry operation on the Eastern Shore right now.

But the significance of the farm in Rhodesdale, Maryland, is not the poultry itself. It’s the technology used to repurpose chicken manure.

CNS-BAY-POULTRY002wThe Maryland Department of Agriculture and Irish agri-tech company Biomass Heating Solutions Limited, or BHSL, have committed nearly $3 million toward manure-to-energy technology that they hope will significantly reduce the impact of Murphy’s chickens—and perhaps one day all Eastern Shore poultry—on the Chesapeake Bay.

“Our main objective is bird enhancement,” BHSL project engineer James O’Sullivan told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service. “We want to completely diminish ammonium (from Murphy’s chickens to the bay). We want to reduce humidity (in the chicken houses) and have a drier atmosphere for the birds, hence drier manure.”

The project was completed and went online in December. While O’Sullivan oversees the equipment on the farm, BHSL runs it off-site.

“The whole system is fully automated,” O’Sullivan said. “It is controlled by our remote operations team in Ireland.”

The farm houses more than 160,000 chickens—a large number, no question—but a fraction of the 300 million “broilers,” or chickens bred specifically for meat production, that the USDA says the state produces annually.

O’Sullivan says the chickens on Murphy’s farm can produce as much as 10 tons of manure a day. When left on the ground, the manure finds its way into local waterways and eventually the Chesapeake Bay.

The phosphorus and nitrogen in livestock manure are essential to healthy ecosystems, according to a 2004 report released by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. In excess, however, these natural plant nutrients cause “explosive” growth in algae and other underwater plants, which stifle other forms of life in the bay.

BHSL utilizes a process called fluidized bed combustion, which works by heating a bed of sand inside a fuel combustion chamber until bubbling at 600 degrees Fahrenheit. Once this level is reached, manure is fed into the chamber and the temperature is raised to 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit. This process produces hot gases, which in turn are used to boil water that ultimately heats the chicken houses.

Not only does the process heat the chicken houses with clean, renewable energy, it keeps the manure off the ground and out of the waterways.

Livestock manure has long been one of the sources of bay pollution that the state Department of Agriculture seeks to diminish, but implementing environmentally friendly policies while preserving industries vital to local economies has been difficult.

“We can’t lose poultry on the Eastern Shore,” Murphy said. “People are looking for ways to save it, and that’s my goal.”

Murphy sees this technology, which his farm and BHSL began working on three years ago, as a means to clean the bay while preserving a vital economy.

“Right now we’re transporting manure (to other nearby farms for fertilizer),” Murphy said. “But eventually those fields, which didn’t have manure before, will get caught up and experience the same problem.”

“Somewhere along the line, we have to get rid of this manure,” Murphy added. “If you can burn eight to 10 (tons) a day, that’s manure that doesn’t go on the fields.”

Murphy says he hasn’t heard any opposition to the project locally, and others in the poultry industry have met the project with approval.

“The economy around here is driven by chicken farms,” said Bruce Boney, a former IT contractor for Perdue Farms. “If they’re trying to make an effort towards cleaner water, I think it’s positive work.”

O’Sullivan is quick to note that BHSL is not bringing technology to the United States that doesn’t have a track record. In fact, the company first implemented their fluidized bed combustion chamber units in the United Kingdom in 2003, and today run eight different units on six different farms there.

One of the main byproducts of the process is fly ash, and O’Sullivan says BHSL is determining a market for it. Specifically, BHSL is in talks with composting and phosphorus leaching companies, he said. Fly ash’s value comes from its phosphorus, potassium and carbon content.

If the project goes well, O’Sullivan said, there are plans to bring the technology to nearby Bellview Farms, another poultry farm Murphy owns. Bellview houses twice as many chickens as Double Trouble Farms.

Manure-to-energy technology has the potential to reshape how farms handle excess manure not only in Maryland, but the rest of the country, especially the other bay-watershed states.

“Maryland is literally creating the blueprint (for dealing with excess manure in waterways),” Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Joe Bartenfelder said last month.

Maryland’s commitment toward the project, $970,000, comes from the Department of Agriculture’s Animal Waste Technology Fund. Grants from the fund are awarded based on an applicant’s ability to meet a variety of requirements, according to the department’s Office of Resource Conservation program manager Louise Lawrence.

“(We run) a competitive (application process) annually. Proposals are evaluated based on responses to requirements,” Lawrence said. “We have approved funding for six projects to date. These projects vary in cost from $300,000 to $1.4 million.”

Other projects include:

–$150,790 to Green Mountain Technologies Inc. to repurpose horse manure at Days End Farm in Woodbine.
–$237,520 to Green Mountain Technologies Inc. to repurpose dairy cow manure at Iager Farms in Frederick County.
–$350,302 to Veteran Compost and O2 Compost to repurpose horse manure in Davidsonville.
–$676,144 to Planet Found Energy Development to repurpose poultry manure in Berlin.
–$1.4 million to CleanBay Renewables to construct and operate an energy-to-manure plant that will benefit farms in Somerset County.

Gov. Larry Hogan, Bartenfelder, and individuals from the Chesapeake Bay Commission, Perdue Farms, and the University of Maryland’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources are among a list of guests who are scheduled to visit Double Trouble Farms on Monday.

 

By Jack Chavez