Point/Counterpoint Commentaries on the Chicken Tax

As previously reported by Conduit Street, Governor Martin O’Malley has pledged to veto proposed legislation that would place a 5-cent “chicken tax” that would target poultry companies on the Eastern Shore.  It is extremely unlikely the General Assembly will move the legislation – the Senate version (SB 725) has not moved out of the Senate committee where it was heard on February 25 and the House version (HB 905) was withdrawn by the bill’s sponsor.  However, the debate over the poultry industry’s impact on the Chesapeake Bay and the fairness of the proposed tax was continued in two recent commentaries in the Baltimore Sun.

In a March 6 Baltimore Sun commentary Wenoah Hauter and Julie Gouldener of Food and Water Watch, the group that proposed the tax legislation, argued that the poultry industry is getting a “free ride” when it comes to addressing water quality in the Bay.

We have taxed nearly every Marylander to pay for significant nutrient removal at wastewater treatment plants through the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fee, known as the flush tax, amounting to $60 per year for each household. Gov. Martin O’Malley also supported the so-called “rain tax” to manage urban storm water pollution. But when it comes to agriculture, the polluter-pays concept is discarded, and agriculture is instead offered hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to do what it ought to be already doing to reduce pollution runoff. Why is Governor O’Malley giving the bay’s biggest polluters a free ride on the backs of taxpayers and their own contract growers and farmers?  …

Maryland agriculture covers nearly 25 percent of the landmass feeding into the bay and contributes more runoff pollution to the bay than any other source. Growing crops such as corn and soybeans requires huge amounts of nitrogen fertilizer, along with phosphorus. The crops do not use all of these nutrients, and much of what is not taken up winds up in our creeks and streams or seeps into groundwater where it can contaminate drinking water and end up in the bay. When you add millions of pounds of nitrogen- and phosphorus-laden chicken manure to farmland, the problem is exacerbated. The Delmarva Peninsula has some of the greatest concentrations of broiler chickens in the country, and corn and other grains must be grown to feed them.  …

It’s time for the free ride for polluting factory farms to end in Maryland. Governor O’Malley should be standing up for taxpayers, the bay and Maryland contract growers — not the chicken industry.

Bill Satterfield of the Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc. responded in a March 14 Baltimore Sun commentary, claiming some of the statistics cited by Food and Water Watch were inaccurate and arguing that the poultry industry is working to reduce its own share of water pollution.

In a commentary published March 6 in The Baltimore Sun, Why is O’Malley giving poultry polluters a free ride?, the authors, both of the Food & Water Watch organization, claim that the chicken companies operating on Maryland’s Eastern Shore are the “bay’s biggest polluters” and that they are getting a free ride on the backs of the taxpayers. Also, they claim that chicken manure, a heavily regulated and locally produced organic fertilizer, is the cause of “massive pollution” of the Chesapeake Bay. The facts speak otherwise.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency-approved December 2010 Maryland Watershed Implementation Plan, Eastern Shore chicken manure is responsible for just 6 percent of all the nitrogen from all sources throughout the state that is reaching the Chesapeake Bay.  …

The authors stated that “Maryland agriculture covers nearly 25 percent of the landmass feeding into the bay.” Again, not correct. According to EPA data, Maryland agricultural land is less than 4 percent of all the land in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. And EPA data show that the amount of watershed farmland is shrinking while developed land is growing.  …

Maryland’s chicken industry and farmers are making progress and will continue to do so. State policies and proposed state policies, such as the Chicken Tax, cannot be so unreasonable as to drive farm families off their lands. Fewer well managed farms and more commercial, residential, and industrial development will not improve Chesapeake Bay water quality.

 

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