From the Maryland Farm Bureau

On Monday, May 5th the Maryland Court of Appeals heard arguments in the case concerning the release of Nutrient Management plan information that dates back to 2008. Maryland Farm Bureau has been involved in this litigation on behalf of our members in an effort to preserve the intent of the confidentiality provisions of the 1998 Water Quality Improvement Act.

The 1998 law was the result of compromise on all sides. Our side compromised by agreeing to bring all farmers under the nutrient management requirement, rather than just target livestock operations, as is the case in other states. In return, the legislature agreed that the program would be regulated by the Maryland Department of Agriculture rather than Environment and that nutrient management plans that are submitted to MDA would be kept confidential.

In 2008, the Waterkeeper Alliance filed a Public Information Act request with MDA to gain access to NMPs. Maryland Farm Bureau intervened in court to prevent the release of identifying information. The court ruled that farmer data was confidential. In 2010, the Waterkeeper Alliance filed a follow-up PIA demanding the NMPs and requested the Court hold the Secretary in contempt for not releasing the documents. Farm Bureau went back to court, won a temporary injunction, and argued the finer points of the PIA and NM laws. The Circuit Court and the Court of Special Appeals both provided a ruling favorable to Farm Bureau. The Courts ordered that names and identifying information must be redacted from most material released by MDA.

The Waterkeeper Alliance continued to appeal the case to the highest Court in the State. Last Monday, Valerie Connelly and MFB attorney Maggie Witherup (of the Gordon Feinblatt law firm) were at the Court of Appeals in Annapolis for arguments in the final stages of this Nutrient Management/PIA case. Based on questions from the judges during the proceedings, the primary issues under consideration are the length of the confidentiality protection and the documents and data at MDA that are protected.

The Waterkeeper Alliance, previously represented by the University of Maryland’s Environmental Law Clinic, was represented Monday by the Environmental Integrity Project out of Washington, D.C. A ruling in this case is expected before the end of the year. Maryland Farm Bureau will continue to work to protect the confidential business plans of our members.

Click here to learn more about the case.

Click here to listen to oral arguments; select case no. 87 on May 5th.