Waterkeeper Alliance Vs Poultry Industry

IRVINGTON, US – Nine environmental groups filed a lawsuit today against Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA), charging the state agency with denying public access to documents detailing how waste and excess nutrients are disposed of by Maryland’s farms and agricultural facilities.
calendar icon 8 February 2008
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Waterkeeper Alliance and eight of its Maryland member programs, Assateaugue Coastkeeper, Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper, Patuxent Riverkeeper, Potomac Riverkeeper, Severn Riverkeeper, South Riverkeeper, and West/Rhode Riverkeeper are appealing the agency’s denial of Waterkeeper Alliance’s FOIA requests for access to several facilities’ nutrient management plans. Waterkeeper Alliance and its member programs are being represented by The University of Maryland Environmental Law Clinic.

“I visited the Eastern Shore this fall and spoke with farmers about how Maryland has manufactured an illegal curtain of state secrecy to protect its biggest corporate polluters,” said Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Waterkeeper Alliance Chairman. “It’s time state legislators put the health of Maryland citizens and the Chesapeake Bay over the interests of Big Poultry corporate lobbyists.”

"It’s time state legislators put the health of Maryland citizens and the Chesapeake Bay over the interests of Big Poultry corporate lobbyists."
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Waterkeeper Alliance Chairman.

“Federal law requires waste management plans to be available to the public,” said Drew Koslow, the South Riverkeeper. “The management of one of the largest sources of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay – agricultural runoff – must be transparent.” Ninety percent of the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal waters are impaired for nutrient pollution, which chokes aquatic life and turns much of the bay into a dead zone each summer.

Maryland’s Department of Agriculture refuses public access to the industry’s waste disposal plans under the guise of keeping secret the identity of the farmers who hold these plans. Unfortunately, given MDA’s long history of non-enforcement against agribusiness in the state, denial of access to these plans simply means that farmers are acting with impunity when it comes to irresponsible waste disposal. "How will Governor O'Malley and state legislators clean up the Chesapeake Bay if they don't even know how much manure is produced in this state, and where it ends up,” questioned Fred Kelly, the Severn Riverkeeper.

One billion pounds of poultry manure are produced in Maryland each year, but it is up to individual poultry growers around the state to dispose of their litter. Agricultural pollution is the primary source of pollution to the Bay.

“This action does not target farmers, but rather an arrangement between government and agribusiness that undermines the laws meant to protect our waterways and the public’s right to know,” said Fred Tutman, Patuxent Riverkeeper.

In states around the country nutrient management plans provide citizens with the ability to monitor waste disposal practices and take action when farmers act irresponsibly. The right of citizens to act to protect public trust waterways is guaranteed by federal law. “It is unfortunate we have to take this action to force Maryland to enforce its own regulations,” said Kathy Phillips, Assateague Coastkeeper. “Only by making these plans public can we assure those who are following the law that their good deeds are not being undone by those who don’t obey the law.”

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