Maryland is appealing a county court ruling that would force it to regulate chicken house ammonia gas as a water pollutant.

The Maryland Department of the Environment said April 12 that it has long regulated air emissions under the federal Clean Air Act rather than the Clean Water Act.

But on March 11, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Sharon Burrell ruled that the nitrogen-rich gas needs to be considered in discharge permits for water too because the nitrogen-rich pollutant could eventually deposit into surface waters including the Chesapeake Bay.

This novel interpretation threatens to extend water pollution permitting to other air pollution sources, such as vehicles, landfills and power plants, the Department of the Environment said.

The Delmarva Chicken Association praised the state’s challenge to the ruling.

“This appeal will provide an opportunity to correct the unjustified, sudden insertion of air emissions regulations into a water quality permit,” Executive Director Holly Porter said.

The lawsuit was filed by the Assateague Coastal Trust in Montgomery County, a suburban D.C. county that is not part of the Eastern Shore, where the state’s broiler industry is based.


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