Friday 19 April 2019

Open Government (Transparency) (7)

With the 2018 Maryland Session coming to a close earlier this month, we’d like to let you know about the important legislative victories we achieved along with some of the policies we may revisit in 2019. Over the past few months, Waterkeepers Chesapeake partnered with Maryland waterkeepers and other environmental organizations in the General Assembly to increase public access to government records, increase public participation at the Public Service Commission (PSC), prevent the use of harmful chemicals, decrease the amount of foam in local waterways, and close loopholes under current law that enable the net loss of forests in Maryland -- to name a few.   Legislative Victories Thanks to the work of Fair Farms and others, we were able to secure funding for the Maryland Farms and Families program.The Maryland General Assembly included $200,000 in the final budget for this program that matches purchases made by low-income Marylanders using federal nutrition assistance like SNAP (food stamps) at participating farmers markets. While the Governor still needs to allocate the funds for this program -- you can ask him to do so here -- we are now one step closer to having Maryland fund a successful program that directly supports small farmers, food-insecure Marylanders, and our local economy. This past session the General Assembly also legalized hemp production in Maryland. Hemp has a number of benefits for our environment, provides a new income stream for farmers, diversifies our state’s agricultural system, and may bring new jobs and opportunities to Maryland. You…
Marylanders expect transparent government. This transparency is essential across all sectors of government and industry, including agricultural waste management. Without access to this information, local communities and citizens cannot be assured that these operations are not polluting the water that Marylanders rely on for drinking, swimming and fishing. That’s why Waterkeepers Chesapeake along with Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition (MCAC) are supporting legislation to address a significant loophole in current law that makes it impossible to obtain access to public records through a Public Information Act request if those records are held by agricultural operations. Maryland’s agriculture industry is afforded a level of secrecy that no other industry in our state enjoys, despite being heavily subsidized. Closing this loophole is critical to advancing transparency in the state, as well as to cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay. As currently written, Agric. § 8-801.1, a provision of the Maryland Water Quality Improvement Act, requires most farms to follow Nutrient Management Plans (NMPs) and annually submit a plan summary to the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA). These plans are not written by the farmers themselves, but with the support of professional planners who are paid for with our public dollars. Current law requires MDA to “maintain a copy of each summary for 3 years in a manner that protects the identity of the individual for whom the nutrient management plan was prepared.” Although this provision seems to only affect MDA’s disclosure of identifying information, such as the owner’s name and unique plan ID number, from the plan summaries…
On January 5, 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would require congressional approval on all major regulations.  Any major regulation that does not get the approval of Congress and the President after 90 days will effectively die. This is just one of the many “regulatory reform” bills currently before the U.S. Congress. The package of reform bills, taken together, could seriously undermine the current regulatory process – leaving the public and the environment less protected, while opening the doors for the political system to be subject to more abuse by those with political and economic power. Another reform bill – the Midnight Rules Relief Act – also passed the House in the first week of January.  If enacted, this bill would enable Congress to swiftly undo groups of finalized regulations without any consideration for the merits of each regulation.  Any group of regulations passed during the last few months in office by a president will be subject to this law. GOP leaders said that their top targets will be President Obama’s rule to decrease the environmental impact of coal mining on nearby streams and his rule to reduce methane emissions. The most sweeping regulatory reform bill – the Regulatory Accountability Act of 2017 – will have a dramatic impact on the way federal agencies implement new regulations.  This omnibus bill imposes more than 60 new analytical requirements for agencies that are already subject to a robust system of vetting for every new regulation.  The bill, among…


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