Policy Memo for Governor Larry Hogan

MEMORANDUM

TO: GOVERNOR LARRY HOGAN

FROM: JUSTIN GARCIA-BUNUEL, CONCERNED RESIDENT OF THE STATE OF MARYLAND AND STUDENT OF POLITICAL SCIENCE AT DAVIDSON COLLEGE

SUBJECT: REDUCING NUTRITENT POLLUTION FROM FERTILIZERS IN THE CHESAPEAKE BAY

DATE: MARCH 20, 2016

 

Since the age of five, I have lived in close proximity to the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the United States and one of the most productive in the world.[i] I have grown accustomed to the disgusting state that our iconic body of water is in, and I find that to be disturbing. Our half-hearted efforts in the recent past have not been effective in meeting the necessary goals, so we clearly need to change our approach. In order to save our bay, we need to cut down on agricultural runoff, which “has also been identified as the largest single polluter.”[ii] I recommend that we institute a tiered system of tax reductions for farmers who implement best management practices on their farms throughout Maryland.

 

Nonpoint-source water pollution, and more specifically excess nitrogen pollution from fertilizers, must be addressed. Nitrogen is an essential element in any ecosystem, but runoff from both rural and urban areas[iii] has created an excess of nitrogen that is having a detrimental effect on the bay.[iv] The most notable result of this nitrogen pollution has been the formation of dead zones throughout the bay and its tributaries. Dead zones are large areas of extremely low oxygen concentration that cannot sustain any kind of life.[v]

  • The Obama administration has committed itself to reviving the Chesapeake Bay by the year 2025, and while the 2013 milestone goals have been met for cutting down on nitrogen and phosphorus output into the bay, it is reported that more regulations must be placed upon agricultural practices if the 2017 goals are to be met.[vi]

I believe that my recommendation must be employed by the end of the 2016 calendar year in order to combat nonpoint-source pollution resulting from fertilizer usage throughout Maryland’s farms if we are to continue meeting the goals set by the Obama administration. I have proposed four different options and then evaluated them using 5 different criteria.

  • Political feasibility rates the recommendation on how realistic it is that this recommendation could get political support as a legitimate policy
  • Administrative feasibility rates the recommendation on how easily the recommendation can be monitored and implemented by the administration
  • The last three criteria rate the recommendation on how beneficial or harmful it is to the surrounding populace, the environment, and the economy of Maryland.

 

Proposed Solutions for Cutting Down on Agricultural Nitrogen Pollution

  1. We could continue along our current path and not implement any changes.
    • While we have not made significant improvements with regards to curbing the dangerous runoff from fertilizers, we have made significant progress in dealing with point source pollution like sewage treatment plants.[vii]
    • We have continued to spend too many of our resources on planning, and not enough on legitimate action according to some.[viii]
    • Government spending on efforts to clean up the bay is clearly sustainable in its current state, but cleaning the bay should be prioritized over concerns about government spending.
  2. We could pass a voluntary nutrient management act tailored to farms within Maryland.[ix] Experimenting with more voluntary measures could be beneficial, for if they were successful, they would contribute to a more permanent fix. Voluntary measures have not been particularly successful in the past, but implementing best management practices throughout Maryland’s farms would undeniably have a hugely beneficial effect.
    • If farmers voluntarily implemented these practices on their farms, government expenses would be very low.
    • The 1989 Nutrient Management plan in Maryland, a voluntary nutrient-reduction program designed to help agricultural operators reduce the nutrients running off their fields, was unsuccessful, but perhaps increased awareness and saliency of the issue would produce a different outcome.
  3. We could tax inorganic fertilizers more heavily, making organic fertilizers the more economically wise decision.
    • Organic fertilizers still produce nutrient pollution, but studies have shown that organic fertilizer produces less N2O emissions than its inorganic counterpart.[x][xi]
    • This recommendation would increase tax revenue if farmers continued to purchase the inorganic fertilizers.
    • This may upset local farmers because inorganic fertilizers can increase crop yield, so heavily taxing them could be viewed as a personal attack.
    • The idea that farmers are the only ones contributing to this nitrogen pollution is not entirely correct. Studies show that inorganic fertilizers being used throughout urban areas are also having ill effects on the Chesapeake Bay, so this approach could have a more beneficial effect than others because it is not just targeting agricultural practices.[xii]
  4. We could reward farmers who use best management practices on their farms with tax reductions. Using a tiered system of tax reductions based on the number of BMPs present on their farm, farmers around Maryland could help solve the issue facing the Chesapeake Bay.
    • Farmers can, and should, become part of the solution rather than the problem, and providing farmers with a financially feasible way of becoming the solution is an ideal situation.
    • Using best management practices requires resources, and farmers throughout Maryland are already struggling. Providing tax reductions for the farmers, who use their own resources to improve nutrient runoff, is beneficial for the farmers and the bay.
    • Best management practices have actually been shown to provide economic benefits over the long run, even without tax reductions.[xiii]

 

Recommendation

I would recommend option number four based on the criteria for decision analysis displayed below. It has the highest overall weighted score because of the social and environmental costs and benefits. The weighted score is brought down by the administrative feasibility of the proposed solution because it is very difficult to effectively monitor the best management practices being used by each individual farm throughout the entire state of Maryland. However, the benefits do ultimately outweigh the costs due to the effects that this approach would have socially and environmentally. Based on the criteria, the worst option is clearly doing nothing

1 = costs outweigh the benefits

2 = costs and benefits are about the same

3 = benefits outweigh the costs

Political Feasibility Administrative Feasibility Social Costs and Benefits Environmental Costs and Benefits Economic Costs and Benefits Weighted Score
Criteria Weight 0.25 0.25 0.125 0.25 0.125
No Change 2 2 1 1 2.5 1.6875
Voluntary Nutrient Management Act 3 2 2 1 2 2
Inorganic Fertilizer Tax 2 1.5 1 2.5 3 2
Tax Reduction for BMPs 2 1 3 3 2 2.125

 

[i] Layzer, The Environmental Case: Translating Values into Policy.

[ii] Cestti, Srivastava, and Jung, Agriculture Non-Point Source Pollution Control: Good Management Practices– The Chesapeake Bay Experience.

[iii] Cheng, McCoy, and Grewal, “Water, Sediment, and Nutrient Runoff from Urban Lawns Established on Disturbed Subsoil or Topsoil and Managed with Inorganic or Organic Fertilizers.”

[iv] Layzer, The Environmental Case: Translating Values into Policy.

[v] Horton, Turning the Tide: Saving the Chesapeake Bay.

[vi] Layzer, The Environmental Case: Translating Values into Policy.

[vii] Boesch, Brinsfield, and Magnien, “Chesapeake Bay Eutrophication.”

[viii] Layzer, The Environmental Case: Translating Values into Policy.

[ix] Cestti, Srivastava, and Jung, Agriculture Non-Point Source Pollution Control: Good Management Practices– The Chesapeake Bay Experience.

[x] Cheng, McCoy, and Grewal, “Water, Sediment, and Nutrient Runoff from Urban Lawns Established on Disturbed Subsoil or Topsoil and Managed with Inorganic or Organic Fertilizers.”

[xi] Aguilera et al., “The Potential of Organic Fertilizers and Water Management to Reduce N2O Emissions in Mediterranean Climate Cropping Systems. A Review.”

[xii] Cheng, McCoy, and Grewal, “Water, Sediment, and Nutrient Runoff from Urban Lawns Established on Disturbed Subsoil or Topsoil and Managed with Inorganic or Organic Fertilizers.”

[xiii] Cestti, Srivastava, and Jung, Agriculture Non-Point Source Pollution Control: Good Management Practices– The Chesapeake Bay Experience.

 

 

Works Cited

 

Aguilera, Edward, Luis Lassaletta, Alberto Sanz-Cobena, Josette Garnier, and Antonio Vallejo. “The Potential of Organic Fertilizers and Water Management to Reduce N2O Emissions in Mediterranean Climate Cropping Systems. A Review.” Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 164 (2013): 32–52.

Boesch, Donald F., Russel B. Brinsfield, and Robert E. Magnien. “Chesapeake Bay Eutrophication.” Journal of Environmental Quality 30, no. 2 (2000): 303–20.

Cestti, Rita, Jitendra Srivastava, and Samira Jung. Agriculture Non-Point Source Pollution Control: Good Management Practices– The Chesapeake Bay Experience. World Bank Publications, 2003.

Cheng, Zhiqiang, Edward L. McCoy, and Parwinder S. Grewal. “Water, Sediment, and Nutrient Runoff from Urban Lawns Established on Disturbed Subsoil or Topsoil and Managed with Inorganic or Organic Fertilizers.” Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013, n.d.

Horton, Tom. Turning the Tide: Saving the Chesapeake Bay. Island Press, 2013.

Layzer, Judith A. The Environmental Case: Translating Values into Policy. CQ Press, n.d.

 

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