Tuesday 26 March 2019

Bill would help implement the Phosphorus Management Tool, improve industrial agriculture permitting and reinstate Eastern Shore water quality monitors

ANNAPOLIS, MD – The Maryland Senate voted 32-15 today to approve SB 546, a bill that would give the state more information about agriculture practices, manure transport and water quality on the Eastern Shore. It would also change the discharge permitting process for constructing new industrial agriculture Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) to ensure more transparency and discontinue the decades-long waiver of permit fees. 

“We need to collect better data and ensure we are enforcing the laws we have to reduce pollution,” said Senator Paul Pinsky (D-22), lead sponsor of SB 546 and chairman of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee. “Most Maryland farmers are doing their part to protect waterways, but the fact is that agriculture remains the single, largest source of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay. We need to make sure the entire system is working effectively so we can protect clean water.”

Maryland has several laws on the books to help prevent pollution from agriculture, including the Phosphorus Management Tool (PMT) regulations passed in 2015 to stop overapplication of manure on farm fields. However, advocates say that progress to reduce pollution is hamstrung by a lack of useful data, as well as a dysfunctional permitting system.

“The Chesapeake Bay is showing signs of progress, but many threats remain,” said Betsy Nicholas, executive director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake. “The PMT and other nutrient management laws are our best chance to reduce pollution from agriculture to meet our Bay cleanup goals, so we must ensure we have the data we need to make these programs work effectively.”

SB 546 would help the industry utilize the PMT, improve the Department of Agriculture’s reporting of manure transport on current state forms and update the permitting timeline and fees for CAFOs.

The bill also would restore water quality monitoring at nine sites on the Eastern Shore which had been discontinued in 2013 due to budget cuts at the Department of Natural Resources.

“This region of the state has the highest soil phosphorus levels in the state, and it has a disproportionate impact on Bay water quality,” said Courtney Bernhardt, director of research at the Environmental Integrity Project. “We need monitoring data in this area so we can make informed decisions about the most effective policies to reduce pollution and protect our waterways.”

The bill now moves on to the House of Delegates. HB 904, the cross-file bill sponsored by Delegate Vaughn Stewart (D-19), has not yet moved to the House floor for a vote.

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The Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition is working to improve Maryland waterways and protect public health by reducing pollution, and increasing transparency and accountability, from agriculture and other associated sources of water degradation.

Its partners include: Anacostia Riverkeeper, Audubon Naturalist Society, Assateague Coastal Trust, Blue Water Baltimore, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Clean Water Action, Environmental Action Center, Environment Maryland, Environmental Integrity Project, Gunpowder Riverkeeper, League of Women Voters of Maryland, Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper, Maryland League of Conservation Voters, Potomac Riverkeeper, Rachel Carson Council, ShoreRivers, Sierra Club, Maryland Chapter and Waterkeepers Chesapeake.

New law requires excavation of all sites in Chesapeake Bay watershed

Today, Virginia legislators passed a law in a bipartisan effort to safely dispose of toxic coal ash stored on the banks of rivers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The legislation will require the complete excavation of the more than 28 million tons of coal ash Dominion currently stores at Chesterfield Power Station, Chesapeake Energy Center, Possum Point Power Station, and Bremo Power Station.

“We applaud the efforts of the Potomac and James Riverkeepers who have worked for years in local communities and the courts, with other advocates, legislators and citizens, to find a common sense solution to a legacy of toxic coal ash stored on the banks of our rivers,” said Betsy Nicholas, Executive Director Waterkeepers Chesapeake. “It is critically important to have strong laws on the state level during this time when federal agencies are attempting to eliminate rules protecting our waterways from toxic coal ash and to rollback other Clean Water Act protections.”

The new law will require Dominion to do the following:

  • Excavate all of the coal ash at these four facilities, and either recycle the ash into products like cement and concrete, or place it in modern, lined landfills. At least a quarter of the coal ash must be recycled, and the construction of any new landfills will be subject to local zoning and permitting requirements;
  • Develop a transportation plan with the affected localities where any coal ash needs to be moved offsite; and
  • Prioritize the hiring of local workers throughout the closure process.

Sen. Zirkin, Del. Fraser-Hidalgo Sponsor Pipeline and Water Protection Act

Last week, the Maryland Pipeline and Water Protection Act (PAWPA) was introduced, the latest move to protect Maryland’s waters from dirty, dangerous fracked gas pipelines. PAWPA would require the state of Maryland to conduct a full Water Quality Certification review of any proposed fracked gas pipelines, as it is authorized to do under section 401 of the Clean Water Act. Previously, state authorities abdicated this responsibility when the Potomac Pipeline was proposed. This bill follows the Board of Public Works’ recent decision denying the Potomac Pipeline’s construction easement under the Potomac River. Senator Bobby Zirkin and Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo, who sponsored the state's 2017 fracking ban, are primary sponsors of PAWPA, SB 387 and HB 669.

Surface and ground waters can suffer long-term harms during the construction of fracked gas pipelines. A drilling blowout can release toxic drilling chemicals into the soil and adjacent waters and construction can alter routes and rates of water flow. Once in operation, gas pipelines continue to pose contamination dangers. Gas leaked from a pipeline includes toxic chemicals and a pipeline failure will release explosive methane.

This legislation would require the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to use its section 401 authority to conduct full, independent reviews of new, proposed interstate gas pipelines to assess their impact on the state’s water resources.

Waterkeepers Chesapeake supports both bills with an amendment to have the public notice, comment and hearing provisions apply to all projects that fall under CWA Section 401. With the proliferation of proposed gas pipelines, this Act is critically important. There are other types of projects that fall under the 401 section of the Clean Water Act that should also receive improved reviews as outline in the Act.

Waterkeepers Chesapeake is part of a coalition of climate and clean water advocates supporting this Act. Read full press release.