Sunday 9 December 2018

Nutrient Management Plans (6)

Marylanders expect transparent government. This transparency is essential across all sectors of government and industry, including agricultural waste management. Without access to this information, local communities and citizens cannot be assured that these operations are not polluting the water that Marylanders rely on for drinking, swimming and fishing. That’s why Waterkeepers Chesapeake along with Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition (MCAC) are supporting legislation to address a significant loophole in current law that makes it impossible to obtain access to public records through a Public Information Act request if those records are held by agricultural operations. Maryland’s agriculture industry is afforded a level of secrecy that no other industry in our state enjoys, despite being heavily subsidized. Closing this loophole is critical to advancing transparency in the state, as well as to cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay. As currently written, Agric. § 8-801.1, a provision of the Maryland Water Quality Improvement Act, requires most farms to follow Nutrient Management Plans (NMPs) and annually submit a plan summary to the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA). These plans are not written by the farmers themselves, but with the support of professional planners who are paid for with our public dollars. Current law requires MDA to “maintain a copy of each summary for 3 years in a manner that protects the identity of the individual for whom the nutrient management plan was prepared.” Although this provision seems to only affect MDA’s disclosure of identifying information, such as the owner’s name and unique plan ID number, from the plan summaries…
Environmental advocates have been working to update Maryland's 45-year old Public Information Act through state legislation ("Senate OKs rewrite of public information law," March 24). There is certainly plenty of room for improvement -- Maryland received an "F" in government transparency from the State Integrity Project. The new legislation creates better oversight, tightens timelines to respond to public information requests and requires proper justification for denials.   Clean water and clean air advocates have been stymied when requesting information from state or local governments -- but we're not the only ones.   I testified in support of this legislation alongside newspaper editors, government watchdog groups, social justice organizations and private citizens. The only organizations that testified publicly in opposition to the bill were the Maryland Farm Bureau and the Maryland Grain Producers. Why do they oppose common sense reforms to Maryland's public information law?   The agriculture industry -- the largest polluter to the Chesapeake Bay -- receives special treatment under existing law. For instance, information about state-required pollution plans for many farms are kept secret, hidden from Maryland taxpayers, along with enforcement records for these farms. State governments invest millions of dollars to reduce pollution from farms and we deserve some level of accountability to ensure that funding is being well spent. Unfortunately, the powerful corporate agriculture lobby was successfully able to strip any provisions relating to agricultural transparency out of the legislation.   The amended legislation moving through the General Assembly is still critically important because it will…
SB695/HB755 would limit fees, improve oversight and close loopholes (Annapolis, MD) - Good government organizations, newspaper editors, public health groups, environmental organizations, consumer advocates, social justice organizations and private citizens will testify today in support of legislation that would update the Maryland Public Information Act of 1970. SB695/HB755 would update the Maryland Public Information Act and remove obstacles to public access to public records by limiting and standardizing fees, improving oversight and closing exemption loopholes. The bill is sponsored by Senator Jamie Raskin (District 20) and is cross-filed in the House of Delegates by Delegate Bonnie Cullison (District 19). More than 50 nonprofit organizations have signed onto testimony supporting the bill as an important step forward for Maryland. Among the several panels of supporters testifying on the bill, Jennifer Bevan-Dangel is the executive director of Common Cause Maryland and called on Senators to shine the light of transparency and access onto state government. “All Marylanders deserve access to public information and data,” said Bevan-Dangel. “This bill represents a step forward for Maryland and a step forward for good government.” A recent poll of 500 registered Maryland voters by OpinionWorks highlighted broad support for updating public information laws. “Eighty-seven percent of Marylanders support updating the Maryland Public Information Act,” said Heather Iliff, executive director of Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations. “Here’s something bipartisan we can do that will make our government better.” Several major newspaper editorial boards across the state have endorsed the legislation, including the Baltimore Sun, the Carroll County…