ANNAPOLIS, Md.- For years now, there's been a huge effort to stop the problem of phosphorous pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. Chicken waste is believed to be the cause of the high phosphorous levels. Just a few months ago, the Phosphorous Management Tool went into effect, but some Maryland lawmakers have submitted new bills to tackle the problem. One of the bills would change how farmers deal with manure.
Senate Bill 496 had its committee hearing Tuesday. The bill would require large integrators to dispose of any excess chicken manure that cannot be used on the farm it came from.
"It is time to have big chicken clean up it's mess on the Eastern Shore," said Sen. Richard Madaleno, a Montgomery County Democrat.
That cost would be fronted entirely by those companies.
"Based on our calculations it would add a quarter of a penny per pound of chicken on the Eastern Shore. That's something that certainly a multi-billion dollar company can afford," said Michele Merkel with the group Food and Water Watch.
But not everyone is convinced.
"This bill basically plays Russian Roulette with the economics of the Eastern Shore," said Virgil Shockley, a farmer from Snow Hill.
Shockley says the farmers don't want this bill, which proponents say will make life easier for them. He's concerned companies would leave Maryland. After all, it's happened before.
"In April 2003, Tyson closed a plant in Berlin. Put 150 growers and 350 people out of work," said Shockley.
Proponents claim it is all about responsibility.
"We want the integrators, those that own the chickens, own the operations, and they have all the guidelines for how all those work, we want them held responsible for their waste," said Matthew Pluta, the Choptank Riverkeeper.
"This bill sets a bad precedent," said Bill Satterfield, executive director of Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc. "It makes one business, a chicken company, responsible for the environmental practices of a business it deals with, a chicken farm. If you extend that, a fast food headquarters could be held responsible for the environmental practices of it's franchises."
The hearing for the House version of the bill is set for Wednesday.