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New Governor Blocks Predecessors Last Regulations - January 25, 2015

   Newly elected Governor Larry Hogan wasted no time this week after being sworn in to office to get into action. Using a loophole in Maryland legislation where regulations do not take effect until 10 days after they have been published in the Maryland Register, one of his first acts of governor was to withdraw multiple regulations proposed during the final weeks of former governor O'Malleys' term.  
    There were multiple regulations that Governor Hogan withdrew before they were officially on the books for more review and a possible reversal; a farming regulation that limited the amount of poultry manure that can be added to farm fields, a regulation aimed at lowering emissions from coal-burning power plants, and several regulations involving medical care. Had he not taken action, the new regulations would have taken effect on February 2nd, however there will now be a review process for the regulations to see if they should be repealed or passed. 
    The farming regulation to limit phosphorous used in fertilizers had the biggest backlash and was extremely controversial before it was approved by former Governor O’Malley. The new regulation would put into effect a Phosphorous Management Tool (PMT) which would replace the current Phosphorous Site Index, which governs the amount of phosphorous rich fertilizers that can be added to farm fields. The PMT helps analyze areas where excess phosphorus is present in the soil and identifies where a high potential for phosphorus loss exists. The PMT also allows farmers to evaluate management options they can use to reduce the risk of phosphorus losses from agricultural fields to nearby waterways. 
    Phosphorous, especially excess phosphorous that can not be absorbed by plants or soils before entering the bays and their tributaries, is a major source of “dead zones” in the bay. “Dead zones” are areas with little to no dissolved oxygen, which severely stresses animals and plants living there or makes the area so uninhabitable that there is little to no plant or animal life at all. The implementation of the PMT was supposed to help curb additional phosphorous input into our rivers and bays from stormwater or general runoff and help improve the overall health of the bay. 
    The PMT and its encompassing regulation have caused serious debate from farmers, environmentalists, scientists and politicians. In November 2014, Salisbury University professor Memo Diriker predicted that the new regulations could cost the eastern shore's farming industry between $22.5 million to $51 million dollars to implement. The state countered by adding that should the PMT go into effect, the current model calls for an additional $15.5 million in subsidies and tax relief programs through state and federal programs to help alleviate some of the burden. Environmentalists argued that the health of the bay and its tributaries far outweigh the economic risks that limiting the amount of phosphorous rich fertilizers or using different fertilizers present. The environmentalists are backed up by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which through a study, claims that nearly $20 billion dollars worth of economic growth could occur near the bay by 2025 if the plans to restore the bays ecological health succeed. Watermen are also on the side of environmentalists, as more phosphorous added to our waterways means more polluted waters, larger “dead zones” and less healthy fish and shellfish to harvest and sell. 
    The second regulation that Governor Hogan withdrew was a regulation regarding the reduction of nitrogen oxide released from coal-burning power plants. The regulation would have put a smaller limit on the amount of nitrogen oxide allowed into the air by these coal-burning power plants, reducing their emissions and environmental impact.
    Nitrogen oxide is a green house gas that can last for nearly 120 years in our atmosphere. Pound for pound it is also more dangerous that carbon dioxide; one pound of nitrogen oxide impacts our warming atmosphere 300 times more than one pound of carbon dioxide. Nitrogen oxides are also very damaging to our ozone layer, which of course helps protect us from damaging ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Nitrogen oxide is a major component of acid deposition, otherwise known as acid rain. Nitrogen oxide released into the atmosphere is chemically converted to nitric acid and then diluted forms of nitric acid, amongst others, can fall back to the ground in precipitation. When its not raining nitrogen oxide and nitric acid can also interact directly with soil, vegetation and even water in what is called dry deposition.
    Limiting the amount of nitrogen oxide allowed into the air by these coal-burning power plants would help improve air quality, however those who work for and with the power plants argue that these regulations could cost millions to implement and might raise electricity prices.  
    The addition and subsequent withdrawal of these regulations shows a strong juxtaposition between former Governor O’Malley and current Governor Hogan. Already, Governor Hogan has targeted as many as 30 other regulations, enacted under the former Governor O’Malleys term, that he will subsequently review and possibly reverse. Whether or not Governor Hogan decides to push these regulations forward again is yet to be seen, however he needs to keep in mind that the health of the bay and its tributaries effect us all, regardless of wealth, ethnicity, political or ideological background. 

 
Harrison Jackson is the Coastal Stewards Coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program. 


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