On Thursday, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Sharon Burrell ruled that the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) must regulate ammonia air emissions from large chicken farms.
A study commissioned by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation released in 2019 estimated that Eastern Shore poultry operations in Maryland emit about 33.8 million pounds of ammonia per year and about 24.4 million pounds of that ammonia, a nitrogen compound, is deposited to land and water on the Eastern Shore. The study was cited in the judge’s ruling.
Judge Burrell ruled that this source of pollution must be regulated because it falls on or is washed into the Bay and other waterways that are protected by the federal Clean Water Act and state law. The ruling confirms MDE’s responsibility to control airborne ammonia emissions from confined animal feeding operations. Excessive nitrogen fuels algal blooms in the Chesapeake Bay, which create dead zones—areas of the Bay devoid of oxygen that are inhospitable to marine life.
The court case was brought by Assateague Coastal Trust, which was represented by Chesapeake Legal Alliance.
In response to the ruling, CBF Vice President of Environmental Protection and Restoration Alison Prost issued the following statement:
“We commissioned the poultry ammonia emissions study to better understand how this form of air pollution harms water quality. What we found was that this source of pollution could be significantly damaging water quality and we encouraged farmers, poultry industry leaders, and regulators to reduce this pollution source. This new ruling clarifies the responsibility of regulators to reduce ammonia emissions to improve water quality in Maryland’s rivers and streams, as well as the Chesapeake Bay.”