By JAMES B. HALE
ANNAPOLIS (Nov. 5, 2009) - EPA Senior Adviser Chuck Fox said in two interviews last week that Maryland poultry farmers could face more stringent pollution regulations than those in other states, a stance that has drawn opposition from Gov. Martin O'Malley and the Maryland Farm Bureau.
Fox said that although the amount of pollution large-scale poultry farms can produce is regulated by states, the Environmental Protection Agency has the final say in the matter and can force states to make stricter guidelines if need be.
"When you look to the future ... it very well might be that we need to control pollution beyond that which it is controlled in other parts of the country for us to achieve our goals here in the Chesapeake Bay," Fox said, in a face-to-face interview.
He said that in five to 10 years the restrictions might need to be tighter for states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed than in places like the Ohio River watershed.
"That is how the Clean Water Act was written, that's how it's supposed to be implemented," Fox said.
The power is part of the EPA's push to hold states accountable for pollution that ends up in the bay, Fox said, in a follow-up phone interview. While the agency ultimately wants states to retain power, the final decision remains at the federal level.
Shaun Adamec, O'Malley's press secretary, said the governor is concerned about what tighter restrictions would mean for state poultry farms. Stricter regulations would make it difficult for Maryland farmers to compete with farmers in other states, he said.
"It's not a matter of the EPA's authority, it's a matter of fairness," Adamec said.
O'Malley first raised his concern to the EPA in a Sept. 18 letter. He said he worried Maryland farms would be hurt by EPA intervention and enforcement of tougher regulation.
His concerns stemmed from what appeared to be contradictory messages on the matter sent by the agency, said O'Malley in the letter.
O'Malley's letter was sparked in part by Perdue Farms' decision to move operations out of the state and to North Carolina. Worcester County officials expressed concern to O'Malley over the move, but a spokesman for Perdue in an August press release said the decision was due to outdated facilities and gave no indication it had anything to do with EPA regulations.
In a response letter sent to O'Malley on Oct. 21, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said EPA regulations are applied uniformly.
"EPA regulations for concentrated animal feeding operations ... are national in scope and apply uniformly throughout the country," said Jackson in the letter. She said even regulations in the newest program, which requires farms to apply for pollution permits, are standard for all states.
Later in her letter, Jackson referred to "`Chesapeake Bay-only' federal regulations" and said they could be avoided if state rules are strong enough to clean up the bay.
Fox said the EPA wants to retain power over the states to ensure progress in cleaning the bay. Fox, who has been working on bay issues for most of his career, said he wants to hold states responsible for negligent care of the water.
Valerie Connelly, director of government relations for the Maryland Farm Bureau, said no matter what the intentions are a decision to make different regulations would be "unacceptable." Farms are a business, bottom line, she said. Putting harsher regulations on just Maryland farmers would give them an unfair economic disadvantage.
"Maryland poultry farms are competing against every other farm in the country," said Connelly. "We would continue to insist that the EPA's regulations apply the same to Maryland farmers as in other states."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.