The Partnership Between the Poultry Industry and the Maryland Department of the Environment Raises Serious Questions

By Maggie Cummings

In our first RCC installment following the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) partnership to conduct an air quality project on the Lower Eastern Shore, we provided a brief overview of the parties involved, how the project is planning to be carried out, and what occurred at the sole informational meeting for the public. Here, we dive deeper into the connection between each party: the Campbell Foundation, Delmarva Poultry Inc. (DPI), and MDE. We go on to highlight inconsistencies between the partnership’s practice and what they discussed at the April, 2019 informational meeting. Our review raises serious questions about whether the proposed air monitoring project is a good option that takes into consideration the interests of all citizens.

Left: Senator Mary Beth Carozza R- 38 Right: Lisa Inzerillo. Photo taken at the MDE informational meeting April 25, 2019. Photo: Jenna Miller, Salisbury Daily Times

During the informational meeting, the partnership gave a brief explanation of how they came together to establish this project. The President of the Campbell Foundation said that they and DPI have been in the same circles so they decided to work together on gathering air quality data. MDE became involved because “they are the air quality experts,” as DPI Executive Director, Holly Porter, said. The Campbell Foundation has funded industry and agriculture-related projects in the past. Our research found that the Executive Director of DPI is on the steering committee of the Delmarva Land and Litter Challenge (DLLC), “ a knowledge sharing and problem-solving platform” developing strategies to lessen poultry-related nutrient pollution. Unsurprisingly, the Campbell Foundation is a Friend of DLLC. The designation “Friend” means sharing reports, providing input to the Steering Committee on ways to attain Challenge goals, and more. There are no fees or dues. Nevertheless, Friends can provide financial contributions. But this is just one direct connection between the industry and the Campbell Foundation partnering on agriculture related projects.

The Campbell Foundation and MDE also have had a long relationship. In 2007, Campbell granted MDE $25,000 to train local college and law students to review construction permits. In 2006, the Foundation funded the Environmental Integrity Project to evaluate how MDE is meeting its responsibilities under the Clean Air Act. Again in 2011, they funded the same environmental organization to “engage citizens in efforts to achieve more accountability and transparency from the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) in its permitting and enforcement practices.”(The Campbell Foundation). It seems problematic, however, that the Campbell Foundation would partner with MDE on an air quality monitoring project when they fund projects requesting more transparency from the Department.

For four years, Campbell has partnered with organizations in the public health field like Atlantic General Hospital Foundation in Berlin, Maryland. Their funding went to support a local health agency within the community where they are completing the air quality project. But they have not included the agency in the overall partnership. In 2014, Campbell Foundation donated $10,000 to the University System of Maryland Foundation, Inc. to support an Environmental Justice forum that brought a “much needed focus to the nexus between water quality, environmental impacts, and community and public health.”(The Campbell Foundation). It is clear from their funding patterns, the Foundation is aware that air pollutants negatively impact public health. They obviously have connections to local health professionals, yet the foundation chose not to include any in the partnership. Once the final report from the project is distributed, there is no plan in place to evaluate any health effects from the amount of ammonia or particulate matter in the air, two of the main air pollutants produced by chicken CAFOs. It is imperative that the public health sector be included in this partnership, let alone consulted when carrying out the project.

A possible solution to this deficiency lies in a bill that was introduced in the most recent session of the Maryland General Assembly: the Community Healthy Air Act (CHAA). The CHAA would establish a committee on air quality that includes experts in toxicology, environmental epidemiology, commercial animal production and animal housing construction and more, to quantify the amount of air pollutants emitted from large animal-feeding operations, as well as “assess public health risks associated with large animal-feeding operations”(Senate Bill 542). In all three years, since the CHAA was first introduced, it has included the public health component.

Why, then, is the MDE partnership reinventing the wheel and not including public health experts, let alone the citizens who are affected and are championing the bill? Both of these projects collect air quality data around an animal-feeding operation. However, the partnership’s project only looks at one component in the whole system. The partnership is saying that they are waiting for the data to be collected to determine the next steps. But why is the partnership delaying the determination of consequences, whether good or bad, of air quality around a large animal-feeding operation?

The public has a right to be informed of the effects of any level of ammonia or particulate matter in the air they breathe. The timing of the new MDE air quality project raised many eyebrows, since it was proposed two weeks before the CHAA was reintroduced in the general assembly. Once the CHAA was introduced in the most recent General Assembly session, the MDE partnership and air quality project was formally announced. This hurt the CHAA’s chance of success by causing confusion among the committee members. If the MDE partnership was really interested in having the public on board with their air quality project, they would have engaged key stakeholders from the beginning of the process and not as an afterthought. They would not have overshadowed the CHAA backed by the Maryland communities directly involved. The sequence and timing screams of secrecy and the intentional exclusion of citizens.

Yet another concern about the partnership between the DPI, the MDE, and the Campbell Foundation is the financial stake that industry and the foundation has in the air quality project.

Angelo Bianca, Deputy Director of Air and Radiation Administration, speaking to audience members at the MDE informational meeting April 25, 2019. Photo: Jenna Miller, Salisbury Daily Times

During the informational meeting, the Campbell Foundation and DPI were adamant about correcting the audience when they said “This is an industry funded project.” With $120,000 in financial backing and a memorandum of understanding that DPI will assist in securing the site locations of the new air monitoring sites, the audience is correct; it is an industry funded project. DPI has a real financial stake in this project to monitor itself. The Campbell Foundation, having donated $350,000, has an even larger financial stake in the project which they used to deflect the “industry funded project” comment. Tellingly, in MDE’s press release, the combination of funds from the Campbell Foundation and DPI was more than $500,000. In the informational meeting, they only disclosed a combined total of $470,000. Where is the $30,000 or more coming from, and why wasn’t that discussed at the informational meeting?

The public has barely been engaged in this process. MDE announced back in January their partnership with Delmarva Poultry Industry and the Campbell Foundation to implement an air quality monitoring project on the lower eastern shore. The next contact with the public was to simply inform them of the informational meeting to be held in April, where the atmosphere was quite tense. Three Maryland State Troopers were positioned at the entrance of the building. In order to enter the room, you had to sign in through a MDE sign-in list, and then walk through a wall of MDE officials with badges. It was intimidating on many levels and did not create an atmosphere of welcomed collaboration with the public.

Public engagement from the partnership did not improve with the informational meeting. During the meeting, the Deputy Director of Air and Radiation Administration stated that the deadline for public comments would be May 15, 2019. That deadline was never listed on the project website. The deadline was then extended to May 22. Again, this never made it on the webpage. Attendees of the meeting were only notified via email. Thus, for the many community members unable to attend the meeting, there is no way for them to receive updates on the project or to submit public comments. Why would a state agency not display this information? The Deputy Director says they want public input and seek to be transparent, however their actions show something very different.

There are numerous ways that MDE and this partnership can salvage this broken relationship.

  • Immediately engage multiple public health experts to perform health assessments of the level of ammonia and particulate matter data that is collected through this project
  • Ask the public what transparency from a state agency and the partnership looks like and when able to do so, follow through.
  • Include the public and public health experts in the quarterly share of air monitoring data MDE gives to the industry and the Campbell Foundation as stated in the Memorandum of Understanding.
  • Post any and all updates from the project to the website for public review.
  • And at the next informational meeting:
    • Have a third party mediator to avoid favoritism among those speaking from the audience
    • Collaboratively determine community guidelines for the gathering
    • Set the room up in a circle to avoid conflict
    • Provide child care

There are many more ways to improve this process that are not listed here. The RCC invites you to share your thoughts with Angelo Bianca at [email protected]