Friday 26 May 2017

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.

MARYLAND  
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.

VIRGINIA 
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.

Historic Bill Will Protect Our Clean Water Resources

Annapolis, MD - Today the Maryland Senate passed a statewide fracking ban bill, HB 1325, by a vote of 36 to 10. Maryland would be the third state to ban fracking, but the first state with gas reserves to pass a ban through the legislature. The passage of this bill comes on the heels of a massive statewide and people-powered campaign involving thousands of Marylanders in rallies, marches, petition deliveries, and phone calls to legislators. The bill now goes to the desk of Governor Hogan, who is expected to sign it after he announced his support for the ban earlier this month.

“Waterkeepers across the region applaud the vote today in the Maryland Senate to ban fracking statewide,” said Betsy Nicholas, Executive Director, Waterkeepers Chesapeake. “This vote was the result of an incredible grassroots movement across Maryland, and especially in Western Maryland, that demanded the legislature protect their families, livelihoods, and clean water and air from the irreversible damage caused by fracking.”

“I’m elated that the Maryland legislature agreed that mounting evidence demonstrates that the fracking industry has a sorry history of noncompliance and violations of environmental regulations and permits, and determined the only way to safeguard our waterways and drinking water supplies is to not allow fracking to start in Maryland,” said Brent Walls, Upper Potomac Riverkeeper.

“As a member of the Don’t Frack Maryland steering committee and a home owner in Garrett County, I have witnessed first-hand the power of a persistent, science-based grassroots campaign. Residents across the state, and especially in Western Maryland, voiced their opposition to fracking for the past 7 years. We thank the legislature for hearing them and acting today to protect our water, air and land resources for generations to come,” said Robin Broder, Board Member, Waterkeepers Chesapeake.

We give a special thanks our key partners in the Don’t Frack Maryland coalition: Citizen Shale, Don’t Frack Western Maryland, Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility, Howard County Climate Action, Food & Water Watch, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Maryland Sierra Club and Maryland League of Conservation Voters.

Read Food & Water Watch's blog on how people power won!

Blog posted by Waterkeeper Alliance, February 27, 2017, written by Katlyn Clark of Waterkeepers Chesapeake.

For the past few years, Waterkeepers Chesapeake has worked to prevent horizontal hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from coming to the state of Maryland. We had a short-lived victory when a 2-year moratorium law passed in the beginning of 2015 – but that law will expire in October 2017, meaning that fracking could start to negatively impact our water, air and health in just a few months. While Garrett and Allegany counties would be immediately and disproportionately burdened if fracking proceeds, the long-term impacts would be felt across Maryland.

We can look at the track record in other states to see that no state has developed and enforced regulations that would be protective enough of the environment and public health to allow fracking.  Mounting evidence demonstrates that the fracking industry has a long history of noncompliance and violations of regulations and permits. Even compliance with purportedly strong regulations has caused irreversible harm.

A growing body of peer-reviewed evidence finds that fracking simply cannot be done without risk to public health and the environment—and that regulations are not capable of preventing harm. Wells will leak and regulators cannot solve inherent problems with the process that industry cannot fix. Once contaminated, we have lost that source of clean water forever. 

During the fall of 2016, the Maryland Department of the Environment released regulations in anticipation of the moratorium being lifted this fall. We worked with the Georgetown Law Clinic to submit comments on these regulations – pointing out the many weak areas including lack of protections for groundwater (inadequacy of well pad liners and construction), inadequate baseline water quality monitoring, inadequate setbacks, lack of consideration for surface water impacts to aquatic habitat and shoddy waste disposal provisions. Krissy Kasserman, the Youghigheny Riverkeeper, and Brent Walls, the Upper Potomac Riverkeeper, came out to testify in strong opposition to these regulations – advocating for their local waterways and highlighting the dangers that the fracking process poses for our ground water, surface water and drinking water.

Katlyn Clark Speaking at DFM Press Conference

Katlyn Clark Speaking at a Don’t Frack Maryland Press Conference. Photo by Katlyn Clark of Waterkeepers Chesapeake.

For the past year and a half, Waterkeepers Chesapeake worked closely with the Don’t Frack Maryland coalition to build up grassroots momentum across the state for a fracking ban. The coalition now has over 140 public interest organizations, labor groups, businesses, and faith communities committed to passing a permanent statewide fracking ban in Maryland. In addition to hosting movie screenings and events, ten cities and counties across the state have either passed a jurisdiction-wide ban or have passed a resolution supporting a statewide fracking ban. Hundreds of health care professionals, businesses and local elected officials have also signed on in support of a ban.

On March 2nd, Waterkeepers Chesapeake will join hundreds of Marylanders across the state in a March on Annapolis to Ban Fracking Now! We’re marching on Annapolis with one clear demand: ban fracking now. We want to show legislators just how powerful our movement is. Buses will be organized across the state; click here to reserve your seat on the bus nearest to you!

This session, Maryland State Senator Bobby Zirkin and Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo have introduced a statewide fracking ban (SB740 / HB1325). Statewide polls show majority of Marylanders want a fracking ban – the time is now for the Maryland General Assembly to pass a permanent statewide ban on fracking.  

Join us today to demand a ban on fracking to protect our water, air and people.