The Honorable Casper R. Taylor, Jr.
Speaker of the House
State House
Annapolis MD 21401

Dear Mr. Speaker:

In accordance with Article II, Section 17 of the Maryland Constitution, I have today vetoed House Bill 567 - Maryland Agricultural Preservation Foundation - Allegany and Garrett Counties - Natural Gas Rights.

House Bill 567 prohibits regulations and procedures adopted by the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation, in Allegany or Garrett Counties, from requiring a natural gas rights owner or lessee from relinquishing its interest in agricultural preservation district land under certain circumstances. Specifically, if the Foundation determines that exercising natural gas rights will not interfere with the agricultural operations on land, the gas rights owner or lessee is not required to subordinate its interest to the Foundation's interest. The bill also requires the Foundation to report to the Governor and the General Assembly by October 1, 2005. Last year, I vetoed identical legislation, House Bill 376 of 2001. My reasons for the veto are restated below.

The Maryland General Assembly created the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation (MALPF) in 1977 for the purpose of preserving and ensuring continuation of the agricultural interests of Maryland. Agricultural preservation districts are formed when qualifying landowners sign voluntary agreements to keep their land in agricultural or woodland use for a minimum of five years. Landowners agreeing to place their farms within an agricultural preservation district relinquish their interests in the land and may sell a development rights easement on the property to the Foundation which protects the property from further development.

Currently, the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation is at its maximum subscription level, and it is unnecessary to provide this type of incentive to induce property owners to conserve their land in this program. House Bill 567 is another in a continuing series of bills that have been introduced in the past few years to weaken easement restrictions purchased by MALPF. It would be a bad precedent to begin eroding the agricultural land preservation program by carving out and creating a special exception to the Foundation's policy of requiring the subordination of other interests in preserved property. I am also concerned about language in the bill that requires the Foundation to make a determination regarding whether the exercise of the natural gas rights will interfere with the agricultural operation. This provision could lead to many disputes involving the Foundation, landowners and the owners of natural gas rights.

We have protected over one million acres of land in Maryland and, for the first time, we are preserving more land than we are losing to development. House Bill 567 is one of several bills that passed this year and in prior years which, taken together, would seriously erode our efforts to preserve land for future generations. I respectfully urge future Governors and future legislatures to remain vigilant in these protection efforts and proceed cautiously in altering these programs.

For the above reasons, I have vetoed House Bill 567.

Parris N. Glendening