Our 2021 Clean Water Legislative Priorities

Maryland and Virginia’s 2021 General Assemblies convened on January 13 under very unusual and stressful circumstances due to the necessary COVID safety protocols, and the unprecedented security precautions due to the threats to state capitols following the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th. Pennsylvania’s House and Senate meet at various times during the course of the year, with both chambers reconvening January 25. Lawmakers and policy advocates like Waterkeepers Chesapeake continue with the work of passing laws that protect and support the health and livelihoods of our residents despite these constraints. Our gratitude goes out to the lawmakers, their staff, and those who protect them at the U.S. and state capitals.

Our legislative priorities include:

MARYLAND

Climate Adaptation (SB 227/HB 295) – Maryland and the region are experiencing more climate-driven extreme storms and flooding. This bill increases community resilience and mitigates urban and coastal flood impacts by adapting Maryland’s stormwater design standards and imposing climate-smart criteria on private-sector development to help Maryland meet existing climate pollution load requirements by 2025.

Conowingo Dam, May 2019. Photo credit: John Pavoncello

Conowingo Dam Emergency Legislation (HB 427)Conowingo Dam threatens the health of the Bay. Without legislative intervention, Maryland will forfeit its rights under the Clean Water Act and billions of dollars over the next 50 years. This Emergency Bill prevents Maryland from entering into such a settlement, including the current one between MDE and Exelon before FERC. [More about Conowingo Dam here.] 

Citizen Intervention (SB 334/HB 76) – Ensures Maryland citizens have the right to intervene and participate in Clean Water Act cases brought by the state, a concept that has been misinterpreted by our courts. Under this bill, citizens, cities and counties can intervene in state court, leading to cleaner water through stronger enforcement and penalties.

Well Water Contaminant Testing – Provides funding for testing private wells. Nitrate contamination is widespread in private drinking wells along Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and health-threatening contaminants often go untested. The funding formula for the program represents a small percentage-based fee on home sales for properties with a private well.

PFAS Protection Act (SB 195/HB 22)This bill restricts the use and disposal of toxic PFAS chemicals. Stops the use of PFAS in firefighting foam, food packaging, and in rugs and carpets. Protects our air and water by banning the mass disposal of these chemicals by incineration and landfilling. 

Other bills: Environmental Enforcement Reporting (SB 324/HB 204), CoastSmart Bill (HB 512), Climate Omnibus Bill (SB 414/HB 583), Plastic Bag Reduction Act (HB 314/SB 223), and Prohibit Chemical Conversion of Plastic (HB 021)

Fair Farms Campaign Priorities:

Food Donation Tax Credit Program Extension – This bill would extend the Food Donation Tax Credit Program, which is set to end at the close of 2021. The program allows farmers to receive credit when donating to certified food banks and food pantries. This important program not only values farmers, but also ensures that food-insecure Marylanders have access to fresh, locally-grown food. Take Action!

RGGI Funds for Maryland’s Healthy Soils Program (HB8) – This bill would allow Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) funds to be used for the Maryland Healthy Soils Program, encouraging and supporting farmers in their journey to build soil health and sequester carbon. Take Action!

Urban Agriculture Grant Program (HB269)- Supporting urban agriculture is an important part of building a resilient food system that promotes food sovereignty. This bill would establish an Urban Agriculture Grant Program and Fund housed within the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA). Take Action!

Other bills: Workplace Housing, Inspection, and Registration for H-2 and Migrant Workers, Food Waste Diversion Bill (HB264), and Pollinator Protection Act Update.

VIRGINIA

Budget PFAS Amendment (Item 307 #2h), providing $60,000 each year to the Virginia Department of Health for the two-year study of PFAS contamination within Virginia drinking water required by 2020 legislation. This would allow VDH to conduct multiple sample rounds at each location with room to use a new, EPA-validated test that detects 11 additional types of PFAS contamination.

Bills and Budget Amendments to restore funding for stormwater and wastewater infrastructure and agricultural cost share programs.

  • Virginia Agricultural Cost Share Program $100 million/year (HB 1652) (Items 373 #2s & Item 373 #4h)
  • Stormwater Local Assistance Fund $80 million/year (SB 1404) (Item C-70 #2s & C-70 #1h)
  • Wastewater Treatment Plant Upgrades $55 million/year (C-70 #1s & C-70 #2h)

Budget Amendment to delay enactment of HB1604 which imposes a river access fee on anyone using Department of Wildlife Resources river access sites. This fee poses an undue burden on river outfitters and other groups.

Polystyrene (Styrofoam) Food Container Ban (HB 1902) – Prohibits the dispensing by a food vendor of prepared food to a customer in a single-use expanded polystyrene food service container. The bill requires certain chain restaurants to stop using such containers by July 1, 2023, and sets the date for compliance by all food vendors as July 1, 2025. [Passed the House.]

“Advanced Recycling” (HB 2173/SB 1164) OPPOSE. This bill should be called Chemical Conversion – a process that converts plastics to fuel or plastic. It’s not recycling at all. The bill would weaken environmental oversight and permitting of chemical plants that melt down plastic waste to turn it into fuel, or often more plastic. [2/2/2021 Update: Bill withdrawn from House floor. A budget amendment for  DEQ study of how best to regulate the industry will be introduced instead.]

Environmental Justice Omnibus Bill (HB 2074 & Budget Item 380 #2H) – This Omnibus Environmental Justice bill builds on the Virginia Environmental Justice Act of 2020. Among other things, the bill requires every state agency to adopt agency specific EJ policies, and codifies the EJ Interagency Working Group, and requires the Department of Environmental Quality and its Citizen Boards to approve a public participation plan before accepting permit applications.

Natural gas pipeline bills (SB 1265 & SB 1311) that would improve and expand oversight and inspection of pipelines.

PENNSYLVANIA

As in Maryland and Virginia, a priority will be in tracking budget amendments that affect state environmental and natural resources agencies and departments, and efforts to set up a dedicated water fund. In addition, we will be supporting efforts to fund an Agricultural Conservation Assistance Program. Bills we are following include a fertilizer bill to regulate application of commercial fertilizers, and any efforts to incentivize the expansion of the petrochemical industry.