Sunday 19 May 2019

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 can find out more about the benefits of this beneficial crop in this educational report from the Abell Foundation.

South Riverkeeper, ShoreRivers, Clean Water Action, and other partners were able to secure the passage of legislation that incentivizes the development of Septic Stewardship Plans in localities. The Plans incorporate best management practices and will allow the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to more readily identify failing septic systems across the state. This policy is on the way to be signed by the Governor and once it’s implemented, we’ll have less nitrogen in our waterways across the state.

Another legislative win includes the passage of the Complete Streets Program, which provides grants to local jurisdictions to update their roads to include retrofits for bicyclists and green stormwater infrastructure, among other improvements. This program aims to reduce stormwater runoff, promote healthy communities, and improve the safety of Marylanders. A big thank you to Delegate Brooke Lierman for sponsoring this legislation.

This session we also supported the work of Assateague Coastkeeper and others to establish strict liability for any future offshore drilling activities in Maryland. With three proposed lease areas for drilling off the coast in Maryland under a new program from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, this bill acts a stopgap measure to prevent and discourage any drilling from taking place by establishing offshore drilling as an “ultrahazardous and abnormally dangerous activity” - meaning that any company that drills will be held liable for any damage or injury to a person or property due to any activities associated with drilling, regardless of the circumstances. It is our hope that this bill and other efforts will ultimately make offshore drilling in Maryland not viable.

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Issues to Revisit in 2019

Improved Public Participation and Notification at the Public Service Commission

A suite of bills we promoted would have modernized the public notification process at the Public Service Commission (PSC) and would have built health considerations into the review process. For instance, House Bill 715 would have required public notice via multiple forms of print and social media, and the opportunity to opt-in to direct text messaging for major projects, like power plants, going through the PSC. While this bill had strong grassroots support and educational messaging, unfortunately this bill did not make it out of the House Economic Matters Committee due to inaction from House Leadership. Over the interim, we plan to ramp up education around these much needed issues and work with Delegate Robynn Lewis, the Maryland Environmental Health Network, and others to garner support from key legislator champions.

Public Access to Records

According to the Maryland Department of Agriculture, Nutrient Management Plans (NMPs) “protect Maryland’s waterways from nutrient pollution... [and] ensure that nutrients [and manure] applied to crops and lawns are not impacting waterways." While the Maryland legislature intended to make NMP summaries and associated cost-share documents available to the public, the high costs and large amount of redactions to this information has virtually rendered it inaccessible. House Bill 1221 sought to address this problem, while still protecting the identity of the NMP holder - simply bringing NMPs in line with other information that’s available through Public Information Act. While this bill ultimately failed in the House Environment and Transportation Committee, we plan to work with Environmental Integrity Project and other partners over the interim to obtain fair access to this information.

More Forests, Cleaner Waterways

Conserving forest acreage is vital for clean water as forests act as one of nature's best water filters and reduce runoff. The Forest Conservation Act would have closed loopholes that enable the net loss of Maryland's priority forests due to development. While this bill was turned into a Task Force bill, and then ultimately died in the Senate, we believe the issue will be ripe for further discussion in 2019.

Safer Communities

House Bill 116 and Senate Bill 500 would have prevented the use of chlorpyrifos--a toxic, nerve agent pesticide--in the state of Maryland. Despite having a preponderance of credible science that links chlorpyrifos with brain damage in children and support for the bill from thousands of Marylanders, special interests were able to kill the bill quietly in the Senate. We’ll continue our work in ensuring safe and clean waterways from harmful chemicals and pesticides, like chlorpyrifos, and revisit this issue in 2019.

Less Foam in Local Waterways

House Bill 538 and Senate Bill 651 would have lessened the amount of disposable foam products in our local streams and rivers by reducing the amount of foam used for food services. Foam breaks into tiny pieces that absorb 10 times more pesticides, fertilizers, and chemicals than other kinds of plastic. This increases toxin exposure to our marine life and threatens local waterways and drinking water sources alike. While Senate Bill 651 was voted out of the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee, it ultimately failed on the Senate Floor.

Community Healthy Air Act

House Bill 26 and Senate Bill 133, otherwise known as the Community Healthy Air Act, would have required a one-time study of air emissions from industrial livestock farms to see if there may be health impacts on neighboring communities.While this bill simply sought science and and basic information to ensure the safety of Marylanders living in areas overburdened with farming operations, the Community Healthy Air Act did not move out of committee. By working on this bill, legislators and their staff were able to learn about this important issue and hear directly from citizens concerned about their health.

These past few months had a few challenges and unexpected surprises, and while we wish all of our priority bills had passed, we are feeling incredibly inspired and hopeful to make progress on our issues moving forward.

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Proposed 90% Cut Ignores Overwhelming Bipartisan Support of Program

(Monday, Febraury 12, 2018) President Trump’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2019 essentially eliminates federal funding for the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay, the largest program to restore a body of water in U.S. history, just as the effort reaches its halfway point. The budget recommends that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program budget be slashed from its current allocation of $73 million to just $7.3 million – an exact 90 percent cut to current funding. These funds would only be designated for monitoring and would effectively shutdown all other aspects of the restoration effort. 

“By slashing the Chesapeake Bay Program funding, the president is giving polluters a green light to destroy the United States’ largest estuary and its already-imperiled tributaries,” said Betsy Nicholas, Executive Director of Waterkeepers Chesaeake. “The multi-state restoration work of the Bay and our rivers and streams is just beginning to pay dividends in the form of cleaner water and restored habitat. We can’t reverse course.”

A multi-state, federally supported program is the only way to restore the Chesapeake Bay, because the tributaries to the Bay cross state boundaries and provide clean drinking water to millions. In addition, the Bay is the economic engine for the region, providing an estimated one trillion-dollar value in fisheries, shipping, tourism, and other industries.

The president’s proposed budget is a direct attack on our rights to clean water and air. In addition to gutting the Bay Program, it calls for a 34 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency, cutting funding for the agency to $5.4 billion — its lowest funding level since 1990. In addition, the president’s infrastructure plan proposes to replace our nation's public highways and bridges with toll roads, cut existing highway funds, sell off our public lands, and gut basic environmental protections that have long protected our water, air, land, and wildlife.

Last year, the president recommended completely eliminating funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program in the Fiscal Year 2018 budget.This was met with resistance from not only the environmental community, but members of Congress.This funding results in millions of dollars in support for projects that are improving communities and protecting local waterways around the watershed. Both the House and the Senate ignored the president’s recommendation, and increased the funding in their respective appropriations bills. We call on our Congressional leaders to do the same this year.