The concept behind the proposed Maryland Agriculture Certainty Program is sound. Farmers would voluntarily agree to meet relatively high standards for pollution runoff and hire third-party inspectors to verify the results. In return, they would be spared from new regulations for 10 years.
In a business that is fraught with uncertainty from droughts and floods, rising and falling commodity prices and boom or bust crop yields, the appeal of predictability is clear enough. The model is not unlike the discharge permit of some manufacturers or sewage treatment plants — a kind of contract between regulators and polluters.
But the bill currently being considered in the state Senate has raised a great many concerns — too many to believe any reasonable compromise can be achieved during this legislative session. Far better for it to be done correctly than hastily, particularly when so much is at stake, and that’s especially true for farmers.
Maryland’s leading environmental advocacy group sees the bill’s conditional requirements of best practices as worthy of advancing. From the Chesapeake Bay Foundation website:
Maryland’s farmers are not currently required to meet farm-specific pollution reduction limits (called Total Maximum Daily Loads or TMDLs). The Best Management Practices (BMPs) required for certainty program participants are also not currently required under any laws or regulations. Farmers who participate in the voluntary program will be going above and beyond any current legal requirements.
To become certified, farmers are required to address all soil and water quality issues on the farm, so any new technology/regulations/allocations are likely not applicable to them anyway.
Substantial attention to the bill has built in the last week, as its public hearing focused this debate. An amended version of the bill currently sits in the Senate floor, awaiting final action from that body. The idea has not yet been heard in the House of Delegates.