Will Maryland Give its Farmers a Pollution Pass?

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Maryland lawmakers are debating a bill that could amount to a pollution pass for farmers in the state. The “Agricultural Certainty” bill would excuse participating farmers from new state and local environmental regulations for ten years.

In return, farmers would agree to meet existing pollution reduction goals set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and would submit to inspections every three years.

At a meeting of the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs committee Tuesday in Annapolis, Maryland legislators expressed enthusiasm for the agricultural certainty program — despite rigorous objections from many environmental organizations, which characterized the bill as risky and impulsive. The committee approved the bill Thursday morning; it will now head to the full Senate where it could be debated as early as Friday.

At stake is the health of the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in North America, and ongoing Bay cleanup efforts that affect six states and the District of Columbia.

Agriculture is the largest contributor of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay, emitting nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment to the watershed in huge quantities. Nitrogen and phosphorous contribute to algae blooms that eat up oxygen in Chesapeake Bay waters, killing valuable fish and shellfish. When sediment is washed into the Bay, it blocks light to aquatic vegetation, which weakens and destroys habitats for young fish, crabs, and oysters.

The arguments for Bay clean-up are not solely ecological. The Chesapeake Bay watershed covers 64,000 square miles and is home to 17 million people. The total economic value of the Bay is likely above one trillion dollars.

Read the rest of the article at TakePart.com.