Statement from Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter
Washington, D.C.—“In yet another clear indication that Governor Martin O’Malley cares more about big agribusiness than he does about the state’s citizens, he announced last night at the Taste of Maryland annual dinner that he would veto a bill now before the state legislature that would require the four Eastern Shore chicken companies to contribute to the cost of the Chesapeake Bay restoration.
“Governor O’Malley’s veto threat shows he’s more interested in votes in Iowa than he is in protecting the Chesapeake Bay. We know from the response agribusiness has had to this bill, they don’t want to debate their role in polluting the Bay. The Governor is trying to help them cut off that debate.
“In announcing his intent to veto the bill, O’Malley stated that he doesn’t subscribe to the “us vs. them” message that the tax would convey. However, during O’Malley’s seven years as Governor, he’s overseen the implementation of several taxes on Maryland’s citizens. Some of the taxes, like the PFSA, are designed to improve Bay water quality, including a doubling of the “flush tax” to $60 per year on households in the state for sewage and septic use and a “rain tax” on several counties and the City of Baltimore to help address runoff to the Bay. Obviously O’Malley is fine with the “us vs them” approach as long as the “them” are the working and middle class of Maryland who are footing the bill for Bay restoration and not his friends at Perdue.
“Gov. O’Malley’s press secretary Nina Smith stated that he was vetoing the bill to protect Maryland’s ‘number one industry. The false claim that agriculture is Maryland’s leading industry is used to fight off any reasonable effort to regulate the industry. A quick look at O’Malley’s own Department of Business & Economic Development website tells the real economic story of agriculture. In a list of industry contributors to the state’s Gross Domestic Product, agriculture ranks second to last at 0.2%, only above mining. And agriculture only ranks that high because its contributions are combined with those from forestry and fishing. On that same site, the agriculture industry doesn’t even show up on the list of highest employers in the state.
“O’Malley once again is showing his true colors by refusing to ask a $4.8 billion dollar chicken company like Perdue to contribute to Bay restoration in the same way he requires the private citizens of Maryland to do. He continues his pandering to big agribusiness in the hope that he’ll go to Iowa during the next Democratic presidential primary and proclaim himself a ‘friend of the farmer’ when all he’s doing is sending a clear message that he’s no friend the working and middle class who are constantly forced to pay for big agribusiness’s free ride in Maryland.”
Background on Poultry Fair Share Act:
The Poultry Fair Share Act imposes a $.05 per chicken fee on the poultry companies who place their birds with contract growers. Agriculture remains the number one polluter in the Bay watershed and excess chicken manure is one of the biggest pollution problems in the state of Maryland. The money raised, about $15 million per year, would go towards paying a large portion of the state’s cover crop program, a $20 million dollar per year taxpayer expense that pays for conservation practices on farms to keep chicken manure out of the Bay. Currently, much of the cover crop program is paid for by diverting money away from yearly fees paid by the state’s septic users. Under the bill, all of that septic fee money would now go to what its needed for – upgrading the state’s septic systems.