Maryland one step closer to ag certainty bill

By Aarian Marshall

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

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ANNAPOLIS, M.D., March 29, 2013 - Maryland is one step closer to a regulatory certainty bill after the state's Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee voted last week to move the legislation to the Senate floor.

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The bill (S.B. 1029) would create a voluntary program that would allow farmers and other producers flexibility in meeting new regulatory requirements. Participants would have to meet all local and Chesapeake Bay total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) and adhere to Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) before they could become certified. Certification would last ten years.

Participating farms would also agree to submit to yearly inspections and data collections forays by both the state's Department of Agriculture and third-party auditors.

Certainty program proponents say the scheme cuts down on regulatory oversight, allowing state and local agriculture departments to make better use of their limited funds. They say certainty programs also allow farmers to plan ahead - if producers know they are following current best management practices (BMPs), they can count on being in compliance for the next ten years. 

But the bill has its opponents, and with a floor debate ahead, its future is still uncertain. Environmental groups such as the National Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club have come out against the legislation, accusing it of playing favorites with an industry that has proven resistant to environmental regulation in the past.

All of Maryland pays into pollution reduction, argues Tony Caliguri of the National Wildlife Federation's Mid-Atlantic Center. “But our plans could be completely upended if we start treating one single sector, agriculture, with such favoritism,” he told the Wall Street Journal.

Others fear that the program simply will not be popular. “On balance, we agree with the state and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation [which has come out in support of the bill], although we wonder if many farmers will actually sign up for the program,” wrote the editors of Maryland's Capital Gazette in an editorial published last Friday.

Buddy Hance, Maryland's Secretary of Agriculture, is optimistic that stakeholders will come to a consensus about the bill. “I can't tell you that everyone is happy,” Hance told Agri-Pulse - but “we are all having conversations together.”


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