Transcripts

Local Farmers, Environmentalists Square Off In Court

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:08
Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir. And today we're picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves off and trying all over again with a show we are calling, Trial and Error. We'll talk with a Georgetown researcher, who may very well help doctors avoid much of the trial and error involved in treating cancer.

DR. RICHARD SCHLEGEL

00:00:26
Our ultimate goal, actually, is to make cancer therapy a personalized therapy.

SHEIR

00:00:31
And we'll meet a man who was tried and convicted for a crime he didn't commit and has been fighting ever since to prevent other people from going through the same ordeal.

MR. MARVIN ANDERSON

00:00:40
You can only choose to move forward, but that's time that you will never get back.

SHEIR

00:00:46
Plus, we'll engage in some theatrical experimentation with the folks at D.C.'s Studio Theater.

MS. BRYONY LAVERY

00:00:51
It's keeping and trying ideas and it's absolute playwright's heaven.

SHEIR

00:00:57
But first, we'll look at a legal trial that's ruffling feathers all over Maryland right now. The case has to do with pollution on the Eastern shore and who's to blame for mucking up the waterways that feed the Chesapeake Bay. As environment reporter Sabri Ben-Achour tells us, environmental groups are going after some big names in the poultry industry and small farmers say they're getting trampled in the process.

MR. TOM JONES

00:01:21
What I want to do is we'll go down 50 and hit--

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

00:01:23
Tom Jones points out the window while driving through chicken country near Salisbury, Md. Across a green and gold field of soybeans are a dozen long, white, hangar-looking buildings.

JONES

00:01:33
Up to 200,000 to 300,000 birds that can be raised in a year there in that one operation.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:01:39
Jones is a retired biology professor and is president of the board of directors of the Assateague Coastal Trust.

JONES

00:01:45
It's a chicken operation because it's a very long building that's only one story with just a plain, old slanted roof to get the rain off. And inside there is a concrete slab and then feeders all the way up and down that long building there.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:02:03
Jones believes that across the Delmarva Peninsula manure from those chickens is polluting waterways with nitrogen and phosphorus. He gets out by the Pocomoke River, which the State of Maryland classifies as impaired.

JONES

00:02:15
What you see is a lot of brownish-looking water. There could be times of the year when you come by here and it's a solid green because of growth of the algae, phytoplankton. And right back there there's a pond, but it's loaded with what's called duckweed, which is a small plant that floats on the surface. The entire surface of that pond is choked with it, it's covered with it and the reason being is 'cause there's so much fertilizer in the water.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:02:41
His group filed a lawsuit, along with the Waterkeeper Alliance against one farm in particular two years ago. The Hudson Family Farm run by Alan and Kristin Hudson of Berlin, Md.

JONES

00:02:52
And so we've sampled above and below. And above the property did not have any of these excessive amounts of nutrients, but below it, it did.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:03:00
In a community room 45 minutes away in Georgetown, Del., Andrew McLean is quietly fuming.

MR. ANDREW MCLEAN

00:03:06
It's brought the farm community here on Delmarva more together than any issue that I've ever seen.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:03:13
McLean is head of the Delmarva Poultry Industry. He's a chicken farmer himself.

MCLEAN

00:03:16
Every creek on Delmarva, because we are flat and the water does not move very quickly, winds up being high in bacteria just from, you know, the normal detritus of things growing near it.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:03:31
Legal experts say it's extremely difficult to prove whether a farm is actually polluting because it's not like a factory or a sewage plant where there's a simple exhaust pipe you can test. The Maryland Department of the Environment checked out the Hudson Farm and did not find they polluted, just that they could have, but the Waterkeepers are pressing their own case. And that's making McLean and other farmers extremely fearful. They've raised $200,000 to cover legal fees and expenses for the Hudsons.

MCLEAN

00:03:58
The state said okay, you're good. And then somebody else comes in and sues you.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:04:03
The Waterkeepers argue that dust and feathers from ventilation fans and boots, among other things, are spreading pollution. The judge in the case wrote this past spring that if he accepted all the arguments of the environmental groups, every farm on the peninsula would probably be in violation of the Clean Water Act.

MCLEAN

00:04:17
Everybody recognizes there, but for the grace of God go I.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:04:22
A more likely implication of the case may not be whether the Hudsons or any other farmers pollute, but who can be held responsible for such pollution. Pamela Marks is with the law firm, Beverage and Diamond, which focuses on environmental regulation and litigation.

MS. PAMELA MARKS

00:04:36
As a big picture I think this case could possibly speak to the extent to which a poultry integrator might bear some responsibility for environmental compliance at farms that they contract with.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:04:50
The environmental groups are going after Perdue, the giant poultry producer. They want to hold Perdue responsible for the alleged pollution of one of its contractors. That's because large poultry giants like Perdue, supply the grain and the chicks to individual farmers and then come to pick up the chickens once they're grown. An attempt several years ago by the Maryland Legislature to make industrial processors responsible for the practices of their contractors failed.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:05:14
This case is an effort to tie the two together through the courts. Alison Proust is with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. She says this would help clean up on a larger scale.

MS. ALISON PROUST

00:05:23
Suddenly, the smaller family farms or small farm operations or large farm operations are gonna have someone else at the table with them contributing financially, taking on some of the burden.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:05:37
Farmers say, when it comes to manure, they want to keep control of it. They can sell it or use it as fertilizer. In any case, the question may never be resolved in this case. The judge has expressed a skepticism towards the arguments laid out by the environmental groups. And in what may be a thinly veiled warning, has pointed out it is well within his rights to make them pay for the farms legal fees if they lose. I'm Sabri Ben-Achour.

SHEIR

00:06:02
What's your stance on this lawsuit? You can cast your vote by emailing us at Metro@wamu.org or you can find us on Twitter. Our handle is @wamumetro.
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