Saturday 16 February 2019

Waterkeepers Chesapeake and our 19 independent Riverkeeper, Coastkeeper and Shorekeeper organizations advocate for legislation at the local, state and federal level.

At the beginning of each calendar year, the legislatures in Maryland and Virginia come into session to debate and pass state laws. During these legislative sessions, Waterkeepers from around the Chesapeake Bay watershed advocate for policies to advance the goals of clean water. Now that both Maryland and Virginia have adjourned for the year, we can report on our successes.

The state's General Assembly met January 11 to April 10.

  • Fracking ban (House Bill 1325)Passed and signed by Governor Larry Hogan. This legislation, sponsored by Del. David Fraser-Hidalgo bans hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, a technique known as “fracking,” in the state of Maryland. Maryland previously had a moratorium that was set to expire October 2017. Seven days after the House version of the fracking ban passed on March 10, Gov. Larry Hogan announced his intention to support the statewide ban bill. Maryland is the third state to ban fracking, but the first state with gas reserves to pass a ban through the legislature. This victory was due to a statewide people-powered movement, Don't Frack Maryland. Read more.
  • Clean Water Commerce Act of 2017 (House Bill 417) Passed/awaiting Gov. Hogan’s signature. The original version of this bill would have reallocated Bay Restoration Funds (BRF) earmarked for specific wastewater improvement projects in urban areas and redirect those funds to an undefined pollution trading program. Because this had the potential to cause pollution hot spots instead of reducing pollution, Waterkeepers Chesapeake opposed the original version of this legislation. After significant amendments, the bill restored the language that BRF funds used for wastewater treatment plant upgrades would remain a high priority. It also prohibits the state from using BRF funding for agricultural nutrient trading credits. These amendments were enough to earn our endorsement.
  • Oyster Sanctuaries (House Bill 924) Passed and enacted. Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy worked to ensure that oyster restoration and recovery work in the Chesapeake Bay continues. In 2016, the Hogan administration recommended migrating some oyster harvest areas to locations defined as sanctuaries. This bill prohibits DNR from taking any action to reduce or alter the boundaries of oyster sanctuaries until the department has developed a fisheries management plan and completed an oyster stock count.
  • Our Fair Farms campaign also had several legislative victories this session. check out this video for a summary of these new policies that protect land, water and public health.

The Commonwealth of Virginia’s legislature met for a 45-day session ending on February 25.

  • Anti-SLAPP Protections. (House Bill 1941) Passed and enacted. This law will protect Virginians from Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) legal actions. These lawsuits are generally intended to stymie public input and censor critics. The law will protect whistleblowers and advocates.
  • Alexandria Combined Sewer Overflow (House Bill 2383) Passed/awaiting Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s signature. Potomac Riverkeeper Network advocated strongly for this law, if signed by Governor Terry McAuliffe, would set a deadline of 2025 for the City of Alexandria to fix their combined sewage overflow system and put an end to millions of gallons of untreated sewage being discharged into the Potomac. This bi-partisan bill could be vetoed,  allowing Alexandria to kick the can down the road, delaying critical clean water infrastructure investment and addressing a serious public health problem for years. Call Gov. McAuliffe now: 804-786-2211.
  • Proper Coal Ash Management (Senate Bill 1398) Passed and enacted. The James River and Potomac River watersheds are home to coal ash ponds adjacent to either the main river or tributaries. Coal ash, a waste product of burning coal for electricity generation, contains arsenic, lead and mercury among other toxics. In Virginia, Riverkeepers on the Potomac and James Rivers had a big victory with the passage of a bill that places a moratorium on solid waste permits for coal ash ponds until Dominion conducts a study of alternatives such as excavating and removing the coal ash to lined landfills located away from waterbodies. Thanks to all who called their legislators and the Virginia governor Dominion will not get a free-pass to bury tons of toxic coal ash on the banks of Virginia's rivers.
  • Protecting Valuable Oyster Reefs (House Bill 1796) Passed and enacted . The James River Association worked to pass this legislation to prohibit dredging harvests in sanctuary areas of the James River.
  • Eminent Domain and Pipelines. Shenandoah Riverkeeper supported the following bills regarding infrastructure requirements and property seizures around oil and gas pipeline construction:
    • House Bill 1993 Passed and enacted. Requires state highway authorities to document the condition of highways on the route to approved pipelines and for VDOT to enter an agreement with the company building the pipeline to take responsibility for affected roadways.
    • House Bill 927 Passed and enacted. Extends the timeframe for taking legal action on a property seized by eminent domain from 60 to 180 days.

Blog published by Waterkeeper Alliance, March 17, 2017, written by Mitchelle Stephenson, Waterkeepers Chesapeake

We asked our 19 Waterkeepers, who know their watersheds better than anyone, their greatest fears about Scott Pruitt as Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator. With Pruitt’s history of climate change denial and his close ties to the oil and gas industry, there are serious concerns.

1. Assateague Coastkeeper Kathy Phillips: The multi-billion dollar coastal resort and fishing economies of Maryland, Delaware and Virginia depend on clean water and healthy fish populations. These coastal resorts drive a $1.5 Billion economic engine for the state of Maryland alone. Expanding offshore fossil fuel extraction and permitting seismic blasting will leave our ocean beaches polluted and our coastal fisheries destroyed.  It is not worth the potential loss.

2. Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Carol Parenzan: The impacts of energy exploration, extraction,delivery, consumption, and exportation are important to residents in central Pennsylvania. Fracking, hazardous chemicals in the river and most recently, oil spills from crumbling infrastructure threaten fisheries, habitat and drinking water. The Susquehanna River needs stronger oversight, not lax federal regulations that favor the oil and gas industry.

3. Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper Angela Haren: Stormwater runoff, sewage overflows, trash clogging up our waters – the Baltimore Harbor faces many serious threats. But we know how to meet those challenges – we have the tools; it’s not a mystery. We can clean up our Harbor and its tributaries. We just need the budget and personnel. That’s what makes this even more devastating. The savage cuts we expect to see under Pruitt’s EPA will make this vital work so much harder, and threaten all the progress we’ve made.

4. Miles/Wye Riverkeeper Jeff Horstman: The Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), or “pollution diet” that aims to keep pollutants out of the Chesapeake Bay was a target of Scott Pruitt when he was Attorney General of Oklahoma. Now that he heads the EPA, our concern is that he won’t sue to overturn the TMDL, he’ll simply unravel it — giving polluters a green light to destroy the United States’ largest estuary and its already-imperiled tributaries.

5. Shenandoah Riverkeeper Mark Frondorf: The Shenandoah is known as a great recreational river in one of the prettiest natural places in America. Alongside the river, people camp and hike. In the river, they tube, kayak, canoe, and fly fish. I monitor nutrient pollution and runoff that can drive algae blooms and fish kills. However, if we don’t stop those nutrients from coming into the river from the land, there isn’t a whole lot we can do to save the river and the fish once it gets to the water. We need the EPA to hold the state accountable.

6. Upper Potomac Riverkeeper Brent Walls: We have legacy energy issues, like acid drainage from abandoned mining operations, heated water coming directly into the river from paper manufacturing, and agricultural runoff from farming operations. The Upper Potomac is in a multi-state area (West Virginia, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland). A strong federal entity could arbitrate across jurisdictional boundaries. That’s not likely to happen in a Pruitt EPA.

7. Lower James Riverkeeper Jamie Brunkow: The James River was the site of European settlements as early as 1571. At the time, Native Americans called it the Powhatan, but English colonists renamed it James after King James I when they established the Jamestown settlement in 1607. Today, those colonists would barely recognize the place. Fish have been cut off from spawning grounds, toxic coal ash leaches into the river, seeps into drinking water supplies and percolates to groundwater. Power plants and industrial operation intakes suck up spawning fish, making it near impossible for restored fisheries that are either threatened or endangered. We need the EPA to not backtrack on coal ash regulations that took years of compromise to finalize.

8. Potomac Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks: The Potomac River feeds into the Chesapeake Bay about 75 miles north of where the Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean. At that location, it is 11 miles wide. Upstream, the Potomac is the closest river in proximity to the headquarters of the EPA. Administrator Scott Pruitt should be aware that the Potomac faces threats from sewage overflows, stormwater runoff, coal ash pollution (remember hexavalent chromium from Julia Roberts as Erin Brochovich? The same stuff is in the Potomac, the river most closely associated with the nation’s capital). The EPA needs to strengthen the regulation of toxic compounds — not weaken them.

9. Anacostia Riverkeeper Emily Franc: There might not be a river that has come so far in such a short period of time. Although it still has an annual inflow of two billion gallons of sewage plus stormwater, there are signs that fish, birds and aquatic habitats are rebounding. The river itself is pretty short. It starts in Maryland, is under 9 miles long, and all fits snugly inside the Washington, DC Beltway. Anacostia fish, covered with toxic lesions from industrial pollutants may be poisonous to eat, but are frequently consumed by the river’s 17,000 subsistence anglers, mostly poor residents of the District of Columbia.

10. Sassafras Riverkeeper Emmett Duke: The watersheds of the upper Chesapeake Bay are making progress. We worry that a Pruitt EPA will take us back to an era where the loudest voices were the polluters with the most money.

Waterkeepers Chesapeake are doing their best to monitor their rivers and make the waters of the Chesapeake Bay watershed swimmable, fishable and drinkable. We’ll be keeping a close eye on Scott Pruitt during his tenure at EPA — and keeping him accountable. We hope you will be too.


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