By AMBER LARKINS
Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS -Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., a non-profit trade association, filed a public records request last month with Attorney General Doug Gansler’s office to learn the role of Gansler’s Environmental Advisory Council and its relationship with the University of Maryland Environmental Law Clinic.
The Environmental Advisory Council assists the Attorney General in prioritizing environmental issues, guiding enforcement initiatives and developing policy.
The law clinic represented the Waterkeeper Alliance in a federal lawsuit against Perdue and a Perdue family poultry farm. The Waterkeeper Alliance, which lost the suit in December, claimed chicken waste runoff from Kristin and Alan Hudson’s poultry farm in Berlin was responsible for pollution in the Pocomoke River, but U.S. District Judge William M. Nickerson found the Hudson farm was not in violation of the Clean Water Act.
In January, the law clinic filed a Maryland Public Information Act request on behalf of various Waterkeeper and Coastkeeper organizations. The law clinic sought copies of all Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans approved by the Maryland Department of the Environment for Animal Feeding Operations.
It later withdrew the request.
Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans document the management of water, manure and organic by-products of farmers who own livestock. These plans seek to help farmers control soil erosion and protect water quality.
Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc. Executive Director Bill Satterfield became aware of the Attorney General’s Environmental Advisory Council at a March meeting of the Maryland Agricultural Commission.
He wants to know what the council does, what its relationship is with the law clinic, and he wants to know if the Attorney General’s Office had a role in the Perdue case.
“We’re just trying to get a better understanding of the bigger picture,” Satterfield said.
Michael Schatzow, a lead lawyer for Perdue in the farm case, said it is not strange at all that Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc. would have serious concerns about what the environmentalists are up to with the Attorney General.
“One poultry farmer by his or herself can’t fight these people,” Schatzow said. “They have some strength in numbers.”
Kathy Phillips, coastkeeper for the Assateague Coastal Trust, an environmental advocacy organization, asked the law clinic last month to withdraw its request for information regarding Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans.
“This has become such a ridiculously politically charged issue that we don’t want to put pressure on the law clinic,” Phillips said.
Phillips plans to submit her own public records request on behalf of her organization to the Maryland Department of the Environment to obtain Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation pollution disposal plans. A Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation is an operation that confines a number of animals for at least 45 days a year in a place without growing vegetation.
“This is just making a mountain out of a molehill,” Phillips said of Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc.’s request.
She said her organization files such requests whenever a permit is up for renewal and receives help from the law clinic because her organization doesn’t retain legal staff.
Her organization looks for discrepancies, she said.
She thinks overall the Perdue case has really helped to educate the public on industrial agriculture, even though her side lost.
“Good or bad, it’s started a dialogue that never happened before,” Phillips said.
The Office of the Attorney General said only that it has received the request and is in the process of responding to it.
Jane F. Barrett, director of the Environmental Law Clinic, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.