Sen. Cardin, Advocates: Maryland Can Lead the Charge in Curbing Urban Fertilizer Pollution in the Chesapeake Bay

Environment Maryland

U.S. Senator Ben Cardin joined Environment Maryland and other Maryland advocates and business representatives today to call for action to reduce urban fertilizer pollution. Environment Maryland also released their new report on the topic, Urban Fertilizers & the Chesapeake Bay: An Opportunity for Major Pollution Reduction

“We all reap the rewards from the bay’s extraordinary economic and ecological benefits,” said Senator Benjamin Cardin, chair of the Water and Wildlife Subcommittee of the Environment and Public Works Committee in the U.S. Senate.

“All 17 million of us who live in the watershed need to be part of the restoration effort too. Wastewater utilities are cutting pollution from their facilities, municipalities are reducing polluted runoff from streets, and farmers are putting conservation practices on the ground. Environment Maryland’s report on urban and suburban fertilizer use points out that homeowners and businesses also need to be part of the solution by reducing the chemicals we put on our lawns and other green spaces,” added Sen. Cardin.

“We will never restore the bay until everyone helps clean it up. From agribusiness, to power plants, to lawn care companies, to home owners – we all need to do our part. In this report we find that grassy areas like lawns are a big part of the problem and should be part of the solution,” said Megan Cronin, Policy Associate for Environment Maryland.

According to the report, turf grass—manicured areas like lawns and golf courses—is Maryland’s largest crop, covering an estimated 1.3 million acres in Maryland. That’s more than one fifth of Maryland’s land cover in the bay watershed, and over 86% of that turf is home lawns. The extensive coverage of turf grass becomes problematic when we apply fertilizers containing nutrients that, when applied in excess, can run off into our waterways when it rains or snows. This process contributes to the dead zones that span up to one third of the bay each summer. 

“According to the most recent county land-use data, approximately one third of the total land area of Anne Arundel County is turf. Healthy lawns do not need gobs of nitrogen and phosphorus, and that makes conventional fertilizer a pollutant of choice – something that our bay and our rivers just cannot afford,” added Chris Trumbauer, Anne Arundel County Councilman and West/Rhode Riverkeeper.

In 2009 the Chesapeake Bay Program, a federal and state partnership, announced that only 24 percent of water restoration goals had been achieved. Because of our failure to attain these goals, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is putting the bay on a “pollution diet” that will guide the region in restoring the Chesapeake Bay to a healthy and vibrant state. The goal is to reduce the bay’s leading pollutants—nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment—to levels the water can tolerate and remain healthy. Each state in the region has written Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) to meet the goals of the pollution diet.

“All diets require sacrifice and determination. The ‘pollution diet’ for the Chesapeake Bay requires everyone to sacrifice in order to reduce pollutants flowing into the bay. Controlling lawn fertilizers will be a major step toward improvement of the bay water quality,” stated Vincent Gardina, the Director of Baltimore County’s Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability.

To help achieve the pollution diet, lawmakers in Annapolis have introduced legislation to reduce urban and suburban fertilizer runoff. Attorney General Doug Gansler and the Chesapeake Bay Commission played leading roles in bringing forward this legislation. The bill (SB 487, HB 573) would limit pollution in several ways such as banning phosphorus from fertilizers labeled for established lawns, requiring that those fertilizers contain more bay-friendly forms of nitrogen (so-called “slow-release” nitrogen), and ensuring that professionals apply less fertilizer at the start.

“The Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore is committed to doing everything we can to restore the vitality of the harbor. A healthy harbor would energize our businesses, grow our city, and enable us to fully enjoy our most precious natural resource: the Chesapeake Bay. If managing our use of fertilizers can help us restore Baltimore Harbor, then we should make it our responsibility to do so,” said Michael Hankin, Chair of the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore.

State laws designed to clean our waters from all sources of pollution, fertilizer included, support the efforts of the Environmental Protection Agency in a time when their authority is being challenged in Washington. The U.S. House of Representatives has proposed stripping funding for the EPA to enforce our most basic environmental laws, the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.

“Congress has to choose between protecting public health and appeasing dirty energy lobbyists. We think the choice is clear: we need to clean up the air we breathe and the water we drink. Sen. Cardin is leading the charge to protect the public health of everyone in Maryland and across the country. Congress should stop attacking the EPA and instead work to clean up America’s air, streams, and precious waterways like the Chesapeake Bay,” Cronin added.

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