Lawmakers Introduce Legislation to Bring Equity to Bay Cleanup Efforts
Annapolis, MD—Senator Richard Madaleno (D-18) and Delegate Shane Robinson (D-39) introduced the Poultry Fair Share Act in the Senate and House respectively today. The legislation would hold Maryland’s big poultry companies, some of the biggest polluters of the Bay, partially accountable for their contribution to nutrient pollution in the Chesapeake Bay by requiring them to pay their fair share towards the necessary costs of Bay restoration.
Over the past several decades, the water quality in the Chesapeake Bay watershed has declined as factory chicken farms on Maryland’s Eastern Shore produce a billion and a half pounds of waste a year in this historic watershed. Since these big companies refuse to take any responsibility for the waste from its 300 million chickens on the Eastern Shore, their contract growers are forced to dump excess manure on already saturated farm fields, where it ends up in the Bay and its tributaries. As a result of this irresponsible behavior, agriculture is the largest contributor of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment to the Bay watershed.
“A healthy Bay is important to Maryland’s economy, and all Marylanders benefit from making the Bay cleaner,” said Senator Richard Madaleno. “So, it’s important that all major polluters of the Bay pay their fair share, and this legislation ensures that one of the biggest sources of pollution begins to do just that.”
“Poultry companies are polluting with impunity while the public pays for the cleanup,” said Delegate Shane Robinson. “Poultry corporations need to pay their fair share by contributing to the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund. It’s important that we all do our part to save the bay.”
State and federal officials have long been aware of the pressing problem that industrial agriculture brings to the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the United States and one of the most important biologically productive estuaries in the world. Unfortunately, elected officials and policymakers have passed the Bay clean-up costs to Maryland’s residents and refuse to make the chicken industry, a main polluter of the Bay, pay its fair share for the waste from its thousands of factory farms.
“Maryland taxpayers are subsidizing the big chicken companies, while they pollute for free,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “Perdue alone has received over $4.2 million dollars in grants and payments from the state of Maryland since 2008, including $74,000 to Jim Perdue personally, while the company leaves its waste behind for others to deal with.”
Marylanders pay $15 million in Baltimore City, $21 million in Montgomery County, $4.8 million between Caroline, Dorchester, Talbot, and Wicomico Counties, and $110 million across the state towards cleaning up the Bay through the Bay Restoration Fund. Meanwhile, a company like Perdue enjoys annual chicken sales of $4.8 billion and pays nothing into the fund despite the significant impacts the industry has on the health of the Bay.
The Bill introduced today would require these companies to foot a large percentage of the bill for the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s Cover Crop program, a $20 million per year initiative designed largely to address the massive amounts of excess chicken waste produced on the Eastern Shore where the chicken companies operate. Presently, this program is funded entirely by state taxpayers, including through the diversion of funds from the annual $60 tax placed on the state’s septic users. By shifting the financial burden of the Cover Crop program over to the profitable companies who create the problem in the first place, the PFSA would allow 100% of the septic money collected to go towards the critical need of upgrading the state’s septic systems.
“The public health and environmental impacts of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay are clear,” said Robert Lawrence, MD, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. “Continued pollution from poultry waste runoff has created dead zones in the Bay and puts the public at risk for exposure to a number of harmful pathogens and other contaminants and contributes to water-related diseases including blue baby syndrome. It’s time for Maryland regulators to take a stand for public health and hold polluters accountable for the degradation of the Chesapeake Bay.”
“We believe big corporate agriculture should pay their fair share to clean up the Bay,” said Environment Maryland Director Joanna Diamond. “Corporate agriculture’s chicken waste is one of the biggest sources of pollution to the Bay and we welcome efforts to hold them accountable.”
Poultry companies reap immense profits while Bay aquatic life, and fishing and crabbing communities, are suffering. Maryland’s legislators should support a Poultry Fair Share Act to end Big Chicken’s free ride and make the biggest polluters pay their fair share.