Our 2019 Legislative Priorities to Protect Your Clean Water

Waterkeepers Chesapeake and our 18 members work on legislation at the local, state and federal level. At the beginning of each year, the legislatures in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia are in session. We are tracking bills to clean and restore our local waterways – making them swimmable, drinkable, and fishable in the Chesapeake Bay and Coastal Bays regions, once again.

Please be on the lookout for our legislative Action Alerts and subscribe to your local Waterkeeper lists to stay up to date. Every year, your participation is what makes our clean water legislative priorities successful.


Resolution on Conowingo Dam: Our number one priority in Maryland is to pass a state resolution on Conowingo Dam. The resolution we drafted specifies that the Maryland General Assembly is of the view that Exelon Corporation – the private company that operates and profits from the dam – must pay its fair share (20 – 25%) of the total clean-up costs associated Conowingo Dam under the state’s Water Quality Certification and the Conowingo Dam Watershed Implementation Plan.

Other priorities include:

Green Amendment – This bill offers a self-executing, statewide Amendment to the bill of rights section of our state Constitution and will give us the right to clean air, water, and a healthy environment. This Amendment will give individuals standing in court to be able to sue if they feel the environment is threatened or their health is adversely affected.

Pipeline & Water Protection Act – Requires Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to utilize its authority under the Clean Water Act to conduct full, independent reviews of new, proposed interstate gas pipelines and other projects that fall under the Clean Water Act’s 401 certification and fully assess their potential impact on our water resources. The review will include analyses of impacts on private drinking water wells, drinking water aquifers, and downstream water supplies; water quality impacts and risks related to climate change; the risks presented by constructing gas pipelines through fragile karst terrain; and cumulative impacts from associated projects. As part of the review process, MDE will be required to hold public hearings, provide for a public comment period, and issue a final public decision in writing.  

Phosphorus Management Tool Update Legislation By law, the State of Maryland already requires agricultural producers to utilize a Phosphorus Management Tool (PMT) to track where the important nutrient phosphorous is needed and where there is too much of it. Applying phosphorous to land that has too much leads to pollution and ultimately to infamous dead zones. In practice, this law is not always working as it’s supposed to. The update legislation provides needed clarification to make sure that responsible operators are left unburdened while irresponsible operators are made to pay and are held accountable for intentionally using poor farming techniques — or applying too much phosphorus-laden manure that results in phosphorus being dumped into Maryland waterways. The bill also would build in key recordkeeping requirements for private companies that transport manure off of Maryland farms so that we can understand the full picture of the amount of manure being generated and moved off the Eastern Shore. It also would re-commission nine water quality monitoring stations on the Lower Eastern Shore so we can get a better understand the quality of our local waterways.

Foam Ban – This bill would prohibit a person or restaurant from selling expanded polystyrene food service products – or food served in foam containers – by January 2020. Schools would also be banned from selling or providing food in foam products. 

Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) Act – A strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) is a lawsuit that is intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition. This bill, intended to protect our rights to participate in legal advocacy would specify the conditions under which a lawsuit is not considered a SLAPP suit and alter the conditions under which a defendant in a SLAPP suit is not civilly liable for certain communications.

Our Fair Farms campaign legislative priorities include encouraging institutions to buy more locally grown food, funding to double the value of federal nutrition benefits at farmers markets, and clarifying the Keep Antibiotics Effective Act. Read more at https://fairfarmsnow.org/2019-maryland-legislative-priorities/.


Safe Disposal of Coal Ash – The good news in Virginia is that it looks like we already have a win! On January 24th, Governor Northam announced a legislative agreement (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. Potomac Riverkeeper Network and James Riverkeeper have worked for the past 5 years with local communities and legislators to fight Dominion’s plan to cap-in-place. Now 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 and leaking coal ash ponds.

Clean Water and Conservation Funding – We are supporting full funding for the good work that our farmers and localities are doing to reduce water pollution and conserve our natural resources.

  • Support $90 million for Virginia’s agricultural best management practices program in FY20. This increase gets us closer to meeting demand for this successful program.
  • Support $50 million for the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund in FY20. These funds help localities reduce pollution entering our streams via stormwater runoff.
  • Support $20 million for land conservation grant programs. Our green, open spaces help filter water to keep rivers healthy.

Prohibiting Offshore Oil & Gas Drilling – The federal administration wants to open up the Atlantic Coast to offshore exploration and drilling for oil and gas despite widespread opposition from cities and states up and down the east coast. In Virginia, SB 1573 has been proposed to prohibit any lease or permit for oil or gas exploration or drilling, or the construction of oil or gas infrastructure, in the beds of any waters of the Commonwealth.

These are just a few of the bills we are tracking and working on. Please stay tuned as we get bill numbers and watch for future emails, action alerts and social media posts on how you can support state legislation that protects your right to clean water!