With turf grass arguably Maryland's largest crop these days, there are growing calls for city and suburban dwellers to do their part to help restore the Chesapeake Bay by cutting back on fertilizing their lawns.
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md, joined environmental activists and the head of Baltimore's Waterfront Partnership at the harbor's edge in Fells Point today to push for passage of state and federal government action to reduce pollution from urban and suburban fertilizer.
"All of us can do a better job in how we manage our particular lawns," Cardin said during the press conference, which was staged next to a rectangular patch of grass jutting out into the harbor. But Cardin added that government has a role to play in helping citizens and communities do what they need to do.
Noting that Maryland has 1.3 million acres of turf grass, Megan Cronin of Environment Maryland urged the state Senate to approve legislation that would regulate the nutrient content of lawn fertilizer and how it is to be applied. The group released a report on lawn fertilizer, which you can read here.
More than a fifth of Maryland's land in the bay watershed is covered in grass, and in metro areas it's even more. About a third of Anne Arundel County is turf, according to Chris Trumbauer, a county councilman and the West/Rhode Riverkeeper.
In Baltimore, the business-led Waterfront Partnership is pledging to do its part for cleaning up the Inner Harbor by changing how it tends the patches of green stretching from Fells Point around to Federal Hill. The group plans to limit the amount of nitrogen put down to green up those urban lawns, for instance, and cut back on fertilizing at all in sensitive areas closest to the water, said Laurie Schwartz, the group's executive director.
While supporting state and local action, Cardin also said he hoped his fellow senators would join him in opposing cuts in federal funding for the Environmental Protection Agency to enforce its "pollution diet' for the bay.
The House cuts in federal spending this year "would be devastating to the Chesapeake Bay," Cardin said of the rider adopted at the behest of a Virginia congressman to keep EPA from going forward with its diet, or total maximum daily load, for nutrients polluting the bay.
The Maryland senator pointed out that the bay reauthorization bill he sponsored, which failed to pass last year, would have provided extra federal funds to help communities deal with runoff of fertilizer and other pollutants. Cardin said with the GOP in control of the House and seemingly intent on blocking EPA action on the bay and a number of other environmental regulations, "It's going to be tough to pass anything."
While businesses often oppose tighter government regulation, key industry leaders support the Maryland fertilizer legislation. Mark Schlossberg, president of Pro-Lawn Plus in Baltimore, turned up for the press conference and said he and others had negotiated a "good bill" with activists that preserves some flexibility for professional lawn services like his while accepting tighter oversight.
Scotts Miracle-Gro Co., the leading seller of lawn fertilizer, also has backed the legislation, even after voluntarily reducing the phosphorus content of its products over the past five years. Last week, the Ohio-based company vowed to go phosphorus-free nationwide by 2012.
Schlossberg differed with a suggestion at the press conference, though, that Marylanders should stop fertilizing altogether and convert their lawns to native plants and shrubs instead.
"Properly applied fertilizer does not run off," Schlossberg countered, arguing as well that grass is an unbeatable buffer against polluted runoff.
(Lawn service treats yard in Perry Hall. 2011 Baltimore Sun photo by Amy Davis)