Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Phosphorus Regulations: Are They Worth It?

Maryland’s 62nd governor, Larry Hogan made a pledge while running, that he was going to fight the phosphorus management regulations. These regulations were to be set forth on February 2, 2015, but Governor Hogan stopped them hours after his inauguration on January 23, 2015. Phosphorus is an essential nutrient for plants and it is found abundantly in chicken manure. This is what a lot of the farmers on the eastern shore of Maryland use to fertilize their fields. This phosphorus gets transported into the Chesapeake Bay through runoff. Once in the water, it causes an explosive growth of plants and algae. This affects the clarity of the water because of eutrophication, and once the high amounts of plants and algae die hypoxia is certain. If someone wants to add phosphorus to their field, they must go through a soil test to determine if their field is at a high risk of phosphorus loss; this test concludes with a fertility index value (FIV). The current regulation Phosphorus Site Index (PSI), allows farmers to compensate for a high FIV by applying buffer systems, but there are no regulators that monitored if the farmer is doing enough to reduce the FIV (Kobel, 2015). The proposed regulation, Phosphorus Management Tool (PMT), would make these tests harder and stricter on the amount of phosphorus-rich manure being spread on fields as fertilizer, while also prohibiting phosphorus on fields if the fields scored too high FIV.

The first article I found discusses both sides about the halt on the phosphorus regulations. One of the main costs for farmers is the cost of conventional fertilizer. This can cost anywhere from $60-75 per ton of fertilizer. There is also costs associated with paying haulers to remove manure and take it somewhere where the phosphorus levels are a lot lower. The estimated total cost for implementing these stricter phosphorus regulations would cost from $21.3 million to $52.5 million (Kobel, 2015). The article explains how farmers and Eastern Shore legislators are very pleased about Gov. Hogan pulling the new phosphorus regulations, while environmentalist groups are very disappointed (Kobel, 2015). The second article I read explained that a Washington based group, The Environmental Integrity Project, reviewed annual reports that were given to the state by more than 400 farms (Wheeler, 2014). The group also discovered that out of the 62 farms that used manure as fertilizer, three fourths were using three times the amount of phosphorus that was needed to grow their crops, (Wheeler, 2014).

In my opinion, it’s hard to determine the best decision. There are some very apparent costs associated with implementing the phosphorus regulations. A lot of the farms on the eastern shore of Maryland are small family owned farms. I think it would be hard for a lot of these farms to still operate if their costs went up a lot more. I also think they would have to raise the prices of their services to help pay the costs of regulations. This would mean more money for the consumer to buy fresh and local products. There is some help available for these people, however, as out of the estimated costs of implementing the regulations, about $15 million would go to subsidies and tax relief programs for the farmer to help with the added costs (Chesapeake Bay Foundation, 2015). I think the cost of implementing the regulations is lower than the environmental and economic costs of not implementing these regulations. We get a lot of ecosystem services from a healthy bay, and I think that, especially over the long run, would be more beneficial. Everyone enjoys the many seafood options we have gotten from the Chesapeake in the past. Now, we are experiencing a decline in almost all of our fisheries. When the abundance of seafood is low, we lose out on the opportunity to fish and harvest. This is an example of provisioning ecosystem service. If we aren’t more strict about the phosphorus levels, we will experience more hypoxia, and less available seafood. Another ecosystem service we are missing out on, without the PMT, is cultural. The Bay is widely used for recreational purposes. The state is losing out on money that could be collected by people who just want to have fun in the Bay.
--Bianca Cooper

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