Waterkeepers Chesapeake Legislative Victories in Virginia and Maryland

Waterkeepers Chesapeake and our 19 independent Riverkeeper, Coastkeeper and Shorekeeper organizations advocate for legislation at the local, state and federal level.

At the beginning of each calendar year, the legislatures in Maryland and Virginia come into session to debate and pass state laws. During these legislative sessions, Waterkeepers from around the Chesapeake Bay watershed advocate for policies to advance the goals of clean water. Now that both Maryland and Virginia have adjourned for the year, we can report on our successes.

The state’s General Assembly met January 11 to April 10.

  • Fracking ban (House Bill 1325) Passed and signed by Governor Larry Hogan. This legislation, sponsored by Del. David Fraser-Hidalgo bans hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, a technique known as “fracking,” in the state of Maryland. Maryland previously had a moratorium that was set to expire October 2017. Seven days after the House version of the fracking ban passed on March 10, Gov. Larry Hogan announced his intention to support the statewide ban bill. Maryland is the third state to ban fracking, but the first state with gas reserves to pass a ban through the legislature. This victory was due to a statewide people-powered movement, Don’t Frack Maryland. Read more.
  • Clean Water Commerce Act of 2017 (House Bill 417) Passed/awaiting Gov. Hogan’s signature. The original version of this bill would have reallocated Bay Restoration Funds (BRF) earmarked for specific wastewater improvement projects in urban areas and redirect those funds to an undefined pollution trading program. Because this had the potential to cause pollution hot spots instead of reducing pollution, Waterkeepers Chesapeake opposed the original version of this legislation. After significant amendments, the bill restored the language that BRF funds used for wastewater treatment plant upgrades would remain a high priority. It also prohibits the state from using BRF funding for agricultural nutrient trading credits. These amendments were enough to earn our endorsement.
  • Oyster Sanctuaries (House Bill 924) Passed and enacted. Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy worked to ensure that oyster restoration and recovery work in the Chesapeake Bay continues. In 2016, the Hogan administration recommended migrating some oyster harvest areas to locations defined as sanctuaries. This bill prohibits DNR from taking any action to reduce or alter the boundaries of oyster sanctuaries until the department has developed a fisheries management plan and completed an oyster stock count.
  • Our Fair Farms campaign also had several legislative victories this session. check out this video for a summary of these new policies that protect land, water and public health.

The Commonwealth of Virginia’s legislature met for a 45-day session ending on February 25.

  • Anti-SLAPP Protections. (House Bill 1941) Passed and enacted. This law will protect Virginians from Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) legal actions. These lawsuits are generally intended to stymie public input and censor critics. The law will protect whistleblowers and advocates.
  • Alexandria Combined Sewer Overflow (House Bill 2383) Passed/awaiting Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s signature. Potomac Riverkeeper Network advocated strongly for this law, if signed by Governor Terry McAuliffe, would set a deadline of 2025 for the City of Alexandria to fix their combined sewage overflow system and put an end to millions of gallons of untreated sewage being discharged into the Potomac. This bi-partisan bill could be vetoed,  allowing Alexandria to kick the can down the road, delaying critical clean water infrastructure investment and addressing a serious public health problem for years. Call Gov. McAuliffe now: 804-786-2211.
  • Proper Coal Ash Management (Senate Bill 1398) Passed and enacted. The James River and Potomac River watersheds are home to coal ash ponds adjacent to either the main river or tributaries. Coal ash, a waste product of burning coal for electricity generation, contains arsenic, lead and mercury among other toxics. In Virginia, Riverkeepers on the Potomac and James Rivers had a big victory with the passage of a bill that places a moratorium on solid waste permits for coal ash ponds until Dominion conducts a study of alternatives such as excavating and removing the coal ash to lined landfills located away from waterbodies. Thanks to all who called their legislators and the Virginia governor Dominion will not get a free-pass to bury tons of toxic coal ash on the banks of Virginia’s rivers.
  • Protecting Valuable Oyster Reefs (House Bill 1796) Passed and enacted . The James River Association worked to pass this legislation to prohibit dredging harvests in sanctuary areas of the James River.
  • Eminent Domain and Pipelines. Shenandoah Riverkeeper supported the following bills regarding infrastructure requirements and property seizures around oil and gas pipeline construction:
    • House Bill 1993 Passed and enacted. Requires state highway authorities to document the condition of highways on the route to approved pipelines and for VDOT to enter an agreement with the company building the pipeline to take responsibility for affected roadways.
    • House Bill 927 Passed and enacted. Extends the timeframe for taking legal action on a property seized by eminent domain from 60 to 180 days.