U.S. Representative Frank Kratovil, D-MD-1st, said environmental regulations are needed that protect waterways, but that also are fair to farmers. Kratovil talked to Eastern Shore legislators last week about the federal environmental regulations facing poultry farmers. Poultry farms above a certain size are classified as concentrated animal feeding operations by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These farmers are required to apply to the Maryland Department of the Environment for a pollution discharge permit that could cost as much as $1,200 a year.
Kratovil said the poultry industry in Maryland’s 1st congressional district ranks as eighth largest in the U.S. He said he wants to help farmers comply with the environmental regulations, but also to ensure rules are reasonable. State Senator Richard Colburn, R-37-Mid-Shore, asked about the H2B visa program, which is critical to the seafood industry on the Eastern Shore. The program allows residents of foreign countries to obtain visas so they can be employed as temporary, seasonal workers. Kratovil said part of the problem is timing in that companies cannot apply for the visas until 120 days before they need the workers. By the time seafood packers and other Shore businesses apply, the cap of 66,000 workers has been reached. U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski, D-MD., sponsored legislation in 2005 that exempted returning seasonal workers from the annual cap, but the legislation has to be renewed each year. Mikulski and U.S. Senator Arlen Specter, R-PA sponsored a bill this year to renew the exemption. Kratovil said he co-sponsored a similar bill in the U.S. House of Representatives.