Rushing to complete his "green" agenda before he leaves office, Gov. Martin O'Malley moved Friday to impose new regulations on farmers to curb the flow of polluting phosphorus into the Chesapeake Bay.
O'Malley acted on the last day he could start the state's rule-making process and get it done before Gov.-elect Larry Hogan takes office Jan. 21. Hogan opposes the regulations, contending they would hurt farmers.
The proposed rules would limit how much phosphorus-rich fertilizer farmers can apply to their fields. In Maryland, particularly on the Eastern Shore, that means preventing farmers from spreading chicken manure on fields already saturated with the substance.
When rain washes phosphorus out of the fields, it flows into local streams and eventually into the bay. There it acts as a nutrient, promoting blooms of algae that choke off the bay's oxygen supply, resulting in fish-killing "dead zones."
Environmentalists and their supporters in the General Assembly contend that the proposed rules are a long-overdue step needed to protect the bay from further degradation.
"It's taken far too long to address this. If we don't do something about this, we're going to lose the bay," said state Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, the Prince George's County Democrat who co-chairs the legislative committee empowered to review the rules.