Monday 18 December 2017

NEW LEGISLATION WOULD IMPROVE OVERSIGHT AND CLOSE LOOPHOLES IN PUBLIC INFORMATION ACT LAW

Senator Raskin, Delegate Cullison Propose First Major Update to Law in 45 Years

(Annapolis, MD) - Good government organizations, public health groups, environmental organizations, consumer advocates and social justice organizations applauded the introduction of new legislation to update the Maryland Public Information Act of 1970. The legislation would update the Maryland Public Information Act and remove obstacles to public access to public records by limiting and standardizing fees, improving oversight and closing exemption loopholes. The bill, SB695 is sponsored by Senator Jamie Raskin (District 20) and will be cross-filed in the House of Delegates by Delegate Bonnie Cullison (District 19).

“Democracy is built on transparency, and Marylanders need total access to our own government,” said Senator Jamie Raskin.

“We’re always striving to do better in Maryland,” said Delegate Bonnie Cullison. “In this digital age when limitless information is only a click away, there is no excuse to keep Marylanders in the dark.”

The legislation would address three key components of Maryland’s existing laws regarding transparency and open government. The bill would:

  • Limit and standardize fees that local governments charge for Public Information Act (PIA) requests. Advocates say that inconsistent fees across state agencies are sometimes so high they deter reasonable requests.

  • Improve oversight by requiring faster PIA responses and designating a citizen Public Information Act Compliance Board to hear appeals.

  • Close loopholes in its exemptions by making public all official documents from entities that receive tax credits or direct subsidies and establishing a “balance test” to

determine whether existing exemptions to the PIA law are actually in the public interest.

More than two-dozen nonprofit organizations are championing the bill as an important step forward for Maryland. Marylanders for Open Government is a diverse network of environmental organizations, public health groups, good government groups, consumer advocates and social justice organizations working together to pass this legislation. 

READ FULL PRESS STATEMENT

 

Maryland Legislators Introduce Fracking Moratorium Bill

Over 100 Md. Health Professionals Support Moratorium, Citing Serious Health Risks; New National Poll Shows Majority of Americans Opposed to Fracking

Annapolis, Md. – Maryland Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo, Senator Karen Montgomery, and 46 other General Assembly members today introduced the Protect Our Health and Communities Act, a bill to enact a long-term statewide moratorium on fracking. At the same time, a new statewide group of doctors, nurses, and other health professionals, Concerned Health Professionals of Maryland (CHP-Md), released a letter to General Assembly leadership, signed by more than 100 Maryland health professionals, supporting the moratorium bill. The letter highlighted a recent analysis that found 96 percent of peer-reviewed studies evaluating health impacts from fracking show serious health risks or actual adverse outcomes related to the drilling method.

 As scientific evidence of fracking’s health threats mounts, Americans are increasingly turning against the controversial drilling method. A Jan. 29th Pew Research Center poll found that a majority of Americans now oppose increased fracking. Furthermore, opposition to fracking within America’s scientific community is even greater, with 66 percent of all scientists and 73 percent of biological and medical scientists opposed.

Fracking is a controversial natural gas extraction method that involves blasting millions of gallons of water, sand and toxic chemicals underground at extreme pressure to break up rock and release the gas. Hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific studies have identified numerous human health risks, air and water pollution, increased earthquake activity, and social problems linked to drilling and fracking in states where it already occurs.

"Almost every week a new study emerges pointing to the alarming health and environmental effects of fracking. To open up Maryland to fracking at this time would simply be reckless,” said Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo, the House bill sponsor. “New York’s health department looked hard at the facts and concluded that fracking just isn’t safe. Are New Yorkers’ health and safety more important than our own? Surely not."

“Today we announce a new effort to place a moratorium on fracking in our state. This bill will allow us to maintain the public’s confidence as we continue to gather data on the long-term effects of the hydraulic fracturing process,” said Senator Karen Montgomery, the Senate bill sponsor. “Without more scientific data on the public health consequences, we cannot engage in possibly risky energy projects.”

“Given the nature of the chemicals used in the fracking process, we may see increases in cancers, neurologic diseases, cardiac and respiratory diseases, and developmental disorders in coming years, but it will take time for these effects to show up,” said Gina Angiola, M.D., Board Member of Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility and cofounder of CHP-Md.

"No public health agency had any authority in Maryland's commission process. The key report that formed the basis of the proposed fracking regulations was completed before the health study was released. From a public health perspective, the commission was flawed from the beginning," said Ann Bristow, PhD, Commissioner, Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission and cofounder of CHP-Md.

“As a nurse-midwife, I am deeply concerned about the elevated risks of birth defects and low birth weight babies seen in families near fracking sites. We need to protect our future generations and continue a moratorium on fracking in Maryland,” said Katie Huffling, RN, MS, CNM, Director of Programs, Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments and cofounder of CHP-Md.

Background: Two commissioners of the 15-person committee appointed to investigate the risks of fracking in Maryland released a letter in January describing how the Commission ignored the health risks from fracking and calling for a long-term moratorium on fracking in the state. In their letter, Commissioners Dr. Ann Bristow and Paul Roberts, a Garrett County business owner, outline the flawed work done under the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative (MSSDI), which led to proposed regulations that cannot adequately protect the health of Marylanders.

The commissioners’ letter states that 73 percent of the 400+ peer-reviewed scientific research on the effects of fracking have been published since January, 2013. Maryland’s Institute for Applied Environmental Health (MIAEH) also concluded that the likelihood of negative public health impacts was “high” or “moderately high” in seven of eight areas studied. The latestpoll in Maryland found 58 percent of Marylanders who know of fracking thought it would harm the state’s environment.

For more information on the statewide campaign for a moratorium on fracking in Maryland: www.dontfrackmd.org

Contact: Anna Susman, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 646-200-5285

DOWNLOAD FULL PRESS RELEASE

###

Agriculture sector only halfway toward 2017 goal for phosphorus pollution

(Annapolis, MD) – Claims by the farm lobby that Maryland’s agriculture industry is ahead of its Chesapeake Bay clean-up goals to reduce pollution are factually inaccurate. The Chesapeake Bay Program confirmed this week that as of June 2013 (its most recent data), Maryland’s agriculture sector is only 51 percent of the way toward meeting its 2017 goal to reduce phosphorus.

“The agriculture industry clearly has a long way to go to reduce phosphorous pollution,” said Betsy Nicholas, executive director, Waterkeepers Chesapeake, a member of the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition. “It is shameful how hard the poultry industry, its lobbyists, and others continue to fight commonsense and scientifically sound solutions.”

The Farm Bureau continues to object to the Phosphorus Management Tool (PMT), inaccurately and repeatedly stating agriculture is ahead of its goals. Federal experts tracking progress have established that the Farm Bureau is incorrect.

“What is undisputable and what should spur the General Assembly and Governor-elect Hogan into action is that not only is agriculture industry is the largest source of pollution to the Bay but that it is behind the curve,” said Joanna Diamond, co-chair of the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition. “Every year, Maryland produces enough poultry waste to fill both M & T Bank stadium and FedEx Field. We’ve simply got too much manure that farmers are spreading on already polluting fields.  And as a result our water quality is getting worse, not better.”

The PMT would reduce pollution by halting the excessive uses of manure on farm fields already contaminated with too much phosphorus. 

“Experts say this is the best opportunity in 30 years to improve the Chesapeake Bay,” said Karla Raettig of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters and a co-chair of the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition. “After ten years of scientific study and a legislatively-mandated economic study, it is time for swift implementation of this pollution-reducing tool.”

Maryland’s 2010 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) committed the state to updating the Phosphorus Management Tool in 2011. A study by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation found that failure to fully implement Maryland’s plan to restore the Chesapeake Bay would result in a $700 million annual loss to Maryland’s economy, doe in part to damage to fihseries and other ecosystem services.

Agriculture is the single, largest source of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay and Maryland waterways, and more than half of Maryland’s phosphorus pollution comes from farms with failed manure management systems. Phosphorus pollution causes algae blooms that threaten public health; kill underwater grasses; harm aquatic life like blue crabs, oysters and fish; and create an enormous “dead zone” in the Bay.

View the infographic “How Manure is Contaminating Maryland Waters & the Chesapeake Bay” as well as a fact sheet for more information about the Phosphorus Management Tool. 

 

Contact: Dawn Stoltzfus, The Hatcher Group, (410) 990-0284

MARYLAND CLEAN AGRICULTURE COALITION
www.marylandcleanagriculture.org
@CleanerMDFarms

DOWNLOAD FULL PRESS RELEASE 

###

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.

Anacostia Riverkeeper – Audubon Naturalist Society – Assateague Coastal Trust – Blue Water Baltimore – Chesapeake Climate Action Network – Clean Water Action – Common Cause Maryland – Environment Maryland – Environmental Integrity Project - League of Women Voters of Maryland – Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper – Maryland League of Conservation Voters – Maryland Pesticide Network – National Wildlife Federation, Mid-Atlantic Regional Center – Potomac Riverkeeper – Sierra Club, Maryland Chapter – South River Federation – Waterkeepers Chesapeake – West/Rhode Riverkeeper