BALTIMORE — Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. announced Friday that the state would abandon rules that hold poultry firms such as Tyson Foods and Perdue Farms Inc. accountable for pollution caused by chicken waste flushing into the Chesapeake Bay.
Reversing an effort by the previous administration of Democratic Gov. Parris Glendening to force the large firms to deal with the ecological damage that comes from their industry, Ehrlich said he would look for voluntary measures or economic incentives to staunch the flow of millions of pounds of nitrogen and phosphorus into the bay and the rivers and streams that feed it.
"I plan to develop innovative solutions that clean up the Chesapeake Bay while allowing chicken processors and farmers to earn a living without excessive government intrusion," Ehrlich, a Republican, said in a prepared statement.
His announcement came after a staff member in his Department of the Environment found that the state had overstepped its authority in tying poultry processors' permits to the practices of the farmers growing their chickens. Maryland farmers still must meet requirements to deal with the chicken waste in an environmentally safe fashion.
Nearly 1 billion chickens are raised by Maryland farmers who are contracted by poultry corporations. The corporations deliver the birds or eggs to growers, provide the feed and then collect the animals for slaughter.
But they leave the farmers with the tons of manure produced by the birds. Though farmers historically have used the waste as fertilizer, it has become an increasing liability, and poultry companies have disavowed responsibility for it.