Clean Water Wins in Virginia and Maryland – Despite Maryland’s Abrupt End of Session

Maryland

Maryland’s legislative session unexpectedly ended a few weeks early on March 18th as a protective measure due to the coronavirus. The legislature will meet in the last week of May to finish up critical work, but many environmental bills will have to be revisited in 2021.

Our Conowingo Dam Emergency bill was one of the casualties of this early recess. While it won’t pass in this session, we do consider this bill a huge success. We secured the support of 60 senators and delegates who co-sponsored this bi-partisan bill, in addition to support from Maryland watermen and federal lawmakers. There were hundreds of people from around the region emailing Governor Hogan asking him to withdraw his bad deal with Exelon.

The fight to protect our local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay from the pollution built up behind the Conowingo Dam is not over. While we wait for FERC’s decision on Maryland’s settlement agreement with Exelon, we will continue to pressure Governor Hogan to do the right thing and withdraw the settlement and make Exelon pay its fair share of the dam cleanup.

Some of our priority bills that successfully made it out in time, include:

Maryland Agricultural Cost Share (MACS) program (SB 597) This bill will ensure that farmers are adequately compensated for implementing long-term practices like rotational grazing and planting riparian forest buffers, which are also known to benefit local water quality.

Certified Local Farm Enterprise Program (HB 1488/SB 985) This voluntary program allows state institutions to contact local farms that meet certain environmental standards to purchase food.

Abandoned Boats bill (HB 143/SB 219) This bi-partisan bill, supported by the South, West & Rhode Riverkeeper, will ensure that the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has the authority and tools needed to effectively remove abandoned boats from Maryland waterways.

Chlorpyrifos bill (HB 229/SB 300) This bill will ban the aerial spraying of the toxic pesticide, chlorpyrifos — which is harmful to humans and aquatic habitat.

Read more about our Fair Farms campaign legislative wins.

Some issues we will revisit in 2021: The Constitutional Amendment for Environmental Health & Justice, the Environmental Accountability and Transparency Act, and the 401 Water Quality Certification Improvement Act.

Virginia

Virginia’s legislative session ended on March 6th. There were a lot of successes in Virginia worth celebrating (learn more at VCNVa.org):

Chesapeake Bay Watershed Stewardship Act (HB 1422/SB 704) – This act will ensure that Virginia takes the steps necessary to address agricultural pollution entering local waterways and to stay on target with Virginia’s TMDL and WIP goals. This was a priority for the Shenandoah Riverkeeper and James Riverkeeper.

Responsible Fisheries Management Act (HB 1448//SB 791) The bill ensure that Virginia’s menhaden fisheries are sustainably managed by Virginia’s Marine Resources Commission.

Prohibiting Offshore Drilling (HB 706//SB 795) This bill will prohibit any offshore drilling infrastructure or equipment from being placed in Virginia’s coastal waterways, and removes policy statements supporting federal efforts to permit oil and gas development 50 miles or more off the Atlantic shoreline.

Two bills to keep per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) out of our drinking water. These bills help the Department of Health set limits on PFAS in our drinking water through science-based recommendations.

Plastic bag tax will give cities and counties the authority to impose a 5-cent tax on certain retail bags. The bill requires local governments to spend funds raised by the tax on environmental cleanups, education programs designed to reduce waste, and providing reusable bags to welfare recipients.

Some issues we will revisit in 2021: Ensuring that above-ground chemical storage tanks are adequately regulated, and improving the 401 Water Quality Certification process for pipelines.

Pennsylvania 

The Pennsylvania legislature meets sporadically throughout 2020, with some scheduled dates later in March. Our recent focus has been on pressuring Governor Wolf to veto HB 1100, which passed earlier this year. This bill would dole out millions in fossil fuels subsidies for petrochemical plants needed to produce plastics and commercial fertilizers. This type of manufacturing emits massive amounts of pollutants which are toxic to our waterways and public health.