A Big Year for Clean Water Legislation in Maryland and Virginia!

We had some important legislative wins for clean water in Maryland. But first let’s give a big shout out to the amazing win in Virginia on cleaning up a legacy of toxic coal ash stored on our river banks!


Safe Disposal of Coal Ash – Great news in Virginia! On March 20, Governor Northam signed into law a bill (SB 1355) to safely dispose of 28 million tons of toxic coal ash Dominion Energy now has stored on the banks of the Potomac, James and Elizabeth Rivers. This bill sets a national precedent for how to safely remove a legacy of toxic coal ash stored along our waterways in our region and across the nation. Potomac Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks and James Riverkeeper Jamie Brunkow have worked for the past 5 years with local communities and legislators to fight Dominion’s plan to cap-in-placecoal ash ponds that eventually leak into our waterways. This bill requires all legacy coal ash in the Commonwealth be recycled or safely landfilled within 15 years, rather than left in the current dangerous state of cap-in-place.


Comprehensive Agriculture Reporting and Enforcement Bill (Del. Stewart – HB904 | Sen. Pinsky – SB546)

This bill is arguably one of the most important agriculture bills that has gained traction in the Maryland General Assembly in the past decade. It will improve transparency and fairness in the State’s industrial agriculture permitting program, create penalties for violations of phosphorous pollution regulations, and improve the state’s overall agricultural enforcement efforts. It will prevent the state from waiving permit fees for industrial farms (known as CAFOs), establish baseline permit fees for super large CAFOs, require greater compliance with regulations to prevent phosphours pollution from manure, close the data gap on the transportation and generation of manure, reinstate water quality monitoring on the lower Eastern Shore, and require farms to obtain a CAFO discharge permit the state prior to their construction. It would also require the state to study the feasibility of requiring on-site water quality monitoring for CAFOs of a certain size.

We thank Senator Pinsky and Delegate Stewart for their strong leadership on this issue. This bill will ultimately help communities and organizations alike access better information about agriculture practices, manure transport and water quality on the Eastern Shore; with the goal of ensuring cleaner local waterways and a healthier Chesapeake Bay.

Sediment and Erosion Reporting Act (Del. Lafferty – HB705  | Sen. Elfreth –  SB 505)

This bill will require greater reporting and transparency of critical information from counties on construction stormwater pollution violations. Construction activities produce the most nitrogen pollution per acre, and more than five times the amount of phosphorus, than any other land use activity. The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) will be required to post the reported information on its website and report to the Maryland General Assembly every year with its findings. The bill will apply to all construction projects that require a sediment and erosion control plan or a building grading permit (i.e. generally any project that disturbs more than 5,000 square feet or 100 cubic yards of soil, with a few exemptions for agricultural operations and utilities). A huge thanks to Delegate Lafferty and South Riverkeeper Jesse Iliff for their leadership on this bill!

Better reporting and increased public transparency will provide for better accountability and, as a result, cleaner waterways. If this law is properly implemented and enforced, it will be critical to ensuring clean local waterways that ultimately flow into the Chesapeake Bay and preventing construction site disasters for large developments and pipelines alike. While physical documentation of construction may provide some residents notice, it will not adequately inform many community members about projects in their neighborhood. Public notice should be modernized to effectively reach local communities on the MDE website. This would ultimately increase government transparency, the backbone of a free and open democracy, especially for projects that have the potential to cause major impacts to local communities and water quality.

Foam Ban (Del. Lierman – HB109  HB  | Sen. Kagan –  SB 285)

Maryland is the first state to ban foam! By July 2020, food and drinks in Maryland may not be sold in expanded polystyrene, more commonly referred to as ‘styrofoam.’ The bill allows for penalties (not exceeding $250) for any violation of this law. The bill requires written notice of the violation and a 3 month grace period prior to imposing the penalty. The bill also requires MDE to do a public education and engagement campaign to make food service companies aware of their new requirements under the law.

Thanks to Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper Angela Haren, Delegate Lierman and Senator Kagan for their leadership on this bill!

Keep Antibiotics Effective Act of 2019 (Del. Love – HB652| Sen. Pinsky – SB471)

This bill, a Fair Farms Campaign priority, will clarify the law passed in 2017, with fixes to fully prevent the routine, low-dose use of antibiotics in Maryland’s farm animals. While the 2017 law banned this practice, the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) opposed it and came out with regulations that would thwart the law’s basic intent. The bill will also ensure that MDA is implementing the bill as intended by the legislature. With advocacy and communications support from Fair Farms, the bill has passed out of the Maryland Legislature. You can send en email to Governor Hogan urging him to sign the bill!

Other Maryland Bills We Supported:

Oyster Sanctuaries (Del. Busch – HB 298  | Sen. Pinsky –  SB 448) – This bill will create five statutory oyster sanctuaries in Maryland – Harris Creek, the Little Choptank River, the Tred Avon River, the St. Mary’s River, and the Manokin River. The success of the oyster population is vital to the health of the Bay; an oyster can filter almost 50 gallons of water a day! This law will prohibit the catching of oysters in or removing oyster seed from the five sanctuaries. It also requires the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to create and enforce restoration plans for each of the protected oyster sanctuaries.

Forest Loss Mitigation (Del. Lafferty – HB 272  | Sen. Young –  SB 234)- This bill will require that local governments replant the same amount of forest that a developer would have had to replant under the Forest Conservation Act. Current law allows developers who clear cut forest land to pay a “fee in lieu” of replanting trees. Many developers opt to pay instead of replant, leaving local counties without the resources to keep up with replanting. This bill seeks to increase the actual replanting of trees to fulfill the goals of the Forest Conservation Act.

Definition for Failing Septic Systems (Del. Lafferty – HB 190) – The term “failing on-site sewage disposal system,” more commonly referred to as ‘septic systems’, is not currently defined under law, but is referenced with regard to septic system upgrades and funding from the Bay Restoration Fund (BRF). Failing septic systems are a growing problem for water quality in the Chesapeake Bay. This bill places a definition in law so that there is clarity around prioritization of the septic system upgrades and disbursement of restoration funds.

Clean Energy Jobs Act (Del. Glenn – HB 1158  | Sen. Feldman –  SB 516) – This bill will put Maryland on track to achieve a 50% renewable energy goal by 2030 and requires Maryland to study ways to achieve 100% clean energy by 2040. The bill, passed with a 95-40 vote in the House and a 31-15 vote in the Senate. 

Issues to Revisit Next Year

Conowingo Resolution (Del. Jacobs  – HJ8) – We were able to bring far-right legislators, far-left legislators, watermen, Waterkeepers, and environmentalists together to support the Conowingo Dam Resolution of 2019 – which would hold the Conowingo Dam owner responsible for a fair share of the clean up costs associated with the Dam. We were able to gain co-sponsors on this resolution that ranged from Montgomery County delegates to Eastern Shore delegates. While this issue had no known opposition, unfortunately, the resolution washeld up in the House Rules and Executive Nominations Committee.

Pipeline and Water Protection Act (Del. Fraser-Hidalgo  –  HB 669  | Sen. Zirkin –  SB 516) – This bill would have modernized the process in Maryland for MDE’s review of potential pipeline projects and ensured that our waterways were most protected from the construction of new pipelines. Unfortunately, the House Economic Matters subcommittee voted downPipeline and Water Protection Actand the Senate version of the bill was withdrawn due to lack of support. This is certainly a step back for us, but we were able to bring the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to the table to discuss ways they can improve the pipeline-review process in Maryland, outside of legislation. We’ll be working on this in the interim, in addition to educating legislators on the importance of this process.