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Factory Farms Beat Back Regulation
of Manure Pollution in Maryland

The Washington Post
August 27, 2002

Poultry Firms Win Round Against Md.; Ruling Blocks
Plan to Regulate Manure
BY: Anita Huslin

Maryland's plan to hold giant poultry companies responsible for controlling
pollution from the waste their birds produce has been blocked by an
administrative law judge who said the state overstepped its authority in
linking the companies' permits to disposal of manure.

Under new pollution-control permits that the Department of the Environment
drafted for the state's three largest poultry producers, Perdue Farms, Tyson
Foods and Allen Foods would be required to give state authorities a list of
the farmers who raise birds for them, specify the amounts of manure
generated and indicate how the manure will be used.

But the poultry companies fought the permits, saying the department was
using them to create an improper regulatory scheme to reduce nutrient runoff
from farms. On Friday, an administrative law judge agreed, writing that the
department can regulate discharges from plants where the companies process
chickens but not from farms where individual contractors raise them.
Runoff from fields fertilized with poultry manure has been blamed for
putting excess nutrients in Maryland waters and promoting the growth of a
toxic microbe, Pfiesteria piscicida, in several Eastern Shore rivers in
1997.

"Perhaps [the department] was responding to the political pressure resulting
from the Pfiesteria scare" in trying to hold processors liable for the
chicken waste, the administrative law judge, Neile S. Friedman, wrote in her
38-page decision.

State officials had maintained that because the companies, which hire
farmers to raise birds, own the animals and dictate what they are fed and
how they are raised, the companies should be held responsible for the waste.
Poultry companies argued that they should not be placed in the position of
having to police contract growers.

"This is a victory for families throughout Maryland who needed some good
news in this difficult year," said Bill Satterfield, executive director of
the Delmarva Poultry Industry, a trade group that represents poultry farmers
in Maryland, Delaware and Virginia.

"We believe there's pretty compelling language in her ruling that the state
went well beyond its authority in trying to pull this scheme off,"
Satterfield said.

Under the new permit rules, poultry companies would have to ensure that
their growers keep records on operations and submit to regular inspections
to ensure that too much of the nitrogen- and phosphorus-laden manure was not
applied to farm fields.

Poultry companies would be prohibited from contracting with growers that
fail to follow approved disposal procedures and would be subject to fines
for violations.

Richard Lobb, a spokesman for the National Chicken Council, called
Friedman's decision "a total vindication for our point of view and a total
defeat for the state."

Department of the Environment officials said they were reviewing the ruling
before deciding how to respond.

"This is an area of great concern for the department, and I think they're
going to identify all the avenues available to them to address this
significant pollution problem," said M. Rosewin Sweeney, principal counsel
for the department.

Under state law, the department can file exceptions to the decision and ask
that it be overruled. The ultimate decision maker in the permit process will
be an individual appointed by the Maryland secretary of the environment. The
outcome of the administrative process can be appealed to the courts.
Environmentalists said that although the poultry producers declared
Friedman's decision a victory, the state has yet to play its last hand.

"Obviously we're disappointed with the judge's decision," said Denise
Stranko, an attorney for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which has lobbied
the state to make major producers responsible for their animals' waste. "But
this is definitely not the end of the line."

 

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