Our 2020 Clean Water Legislative Priorities in Maryland, Virginia & Pennsylvania

The General Assembly sessions in Maryland and Virginia started on January 8th with much excitement and optimism for passing strong bills to protect our water and environment. Waterkeepers Chesapeake has identified priority legislation in each state. We will be asking for your help to get these bills passed so stay tuned for news on how you can take action. [We’ll add bill numbers as we get them.]

Maryland

Maryland Healthy Green Amendment: Our first priority isn’t a bill but a constitutional amendment. Getting this approved is more complicated than passing a bill. A Maryland Healthy Green Amendment would guarantee the right to clean air, pure water, a stable climate, and a healthy environment for all Marylanders. The Amendment would clarify the responsibility of state government to protect Marylanders, while empowering Marylanders, local communities and the state to enforce these rights. The Amendment would shore up gaps in existing laws, strengthen enforcement and compliance, and assure that everyone, no matter what zip code they live in, are equally protected from environmental degradation. 

Constitutional amendments require 2/3rds vote in the General Assembly and a successful ballot initiative in the 2022 election cycle. Will you help us pass a Healthy Environment Amendment in Maryland? Sign up today!

Water Quality Certification Improvement: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed a rule that strips authority away from states and tribes to fully protect their local streams and rivers from major projects, like pipelines, dams and fossil fuel export terminals. It is more important than ever for states to claim their authority under the Clean Water Act’s Section 401 to prevent federally-licensed projects from negatively impacting their local water resources. This bill aims to improve the 401 water quality certification process in Maryland and bolster Maryland’s ability to look at all factors related to water quality impacts, such as climate change, when reviewing and deciding on individual water quality certifications. In addition, we are exploring an emergency bill that would prohibit Maryland from waiving its 401 authority related to the Conowingo Dam.

Enforcement: This bill would increase transparency and encourage more efficiency for environmental complaints in Maryland. More specifically, the bill would create an Ombudsman in the Attorney General’s office to receive, process, and keep a record of each complaint that involves environmental or natural resources violations, and create a website to make this information public.

Zombie Permits: Under the Clean Water Act, water pollution discharge permits are issued for five-year periods. However, as long as a discharger submits a timely application to the state for renewal, the old permit stays in place and is considered “administratively extended” indefinitely. We call these Zombie Permits. The failure of state agencies to renew permits prevents dischargers from meeting new water quality goals and updated science. This bill will require state agencies to conduct an internal review, create standards and criteria for permit review, set a deadline for permit decisions, and determine what immediate recourse will be taken when that deadline passes. Additionally, the bill would require all this information to be put out for public review and comment.

Fair Farms Campaign priorities: Our Fair Farms campaign will be working on bills on good food procurement, composting, healthy soils incentives, a Chlorpyrifos ban, and other bills. Check this page for updates.

Virginia

 On December 11, 2019, Governor Northam announced his biennial budget that includes record-breaking funding for protecting our natural resources:

  • $180 million for the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund to tackle polluted runoff and localized flooding in urban communities,
  • $120 million for wastewater treatment upgrades so that all waterways receive the same standard of protection,
  • $90 million for the Virginia Agricultural Cost-Share Program to help farmers install conservation practices and restore their local streams, and 
  • $40 million for Virginia’s Land Conservation Foundation to protect farms, forests, parks, and other natural areas for future generations.

Benchmarks for Livestock Exclusion and Nutrient Management Plans: While the Governor’s budget is a very good start, we would like to see a fully funded Agricultural Cost-Share Program, which subsidizes on-farm practices that help improve local water quality. We urge the General Assembly to include at least $100 million per year for agricultural conservation practices in the final budget. Virginia should also set 2025 benchmarks for livestock exclusion and nutrient management plans. 

Above-Ground Chemical Storage Tanks (SB626/HB1192): There are thousands of above-ground storage tanks across Virginia that contain potentially hazardous chemicals that threaten local streams and rivers. The extent of these storage tanks is unknown. This bill would bring chemical storage tanks in line with Virginia’s existing program for petroleum tanks and would include requirements for registration, reporting, safety specifications, and spill prevention and response planning. The bill would also account for present and future flood risks to the chemical storage facilities. 

Reducing Plastic Pollution in Virginia Waterways:  We will be supporting bills that reduce the use of plastic. These could include adjusting the litter tax to increase the annual fee on retailers that sell commonly littered products, allowing local jurisdictions to establish fees or bans on commonly littered items, like single-use plastics, and ensuring that balloon releases are considered as litter, given their devastating impact on marine life, waterways, and birds.

Pennsylvania

Unlike Maryland and Virginia, the Pennsylvania legislative session runs on a sporadic basis throughout the year. The Senate is next expected to meet the 3rd week in January and the House met  in mid-December. Here’s what we are tracking for movement in 2020: 

Conowingo Dam: We support any effort to improve Pennsylvania’s in implementation of upstream practices that lessen the sediment and nutrient load coming down the susquehanna river and being subsequently trapped in the overburdened Conowingo Dam reservoir.

Comprehensive Fertilizer Labeling: We support a bill providing comprehensive licensing, registration, and labeling for toxic fertilizers. The bill overwhelmingly passed in the Senate and addresses our concerns about growing stormwater pollution from urban and suburban sectors in Pennsylvania.

Curbing Fertilizer Use: We support a bill that would implement new standards for fertilizers used on lawns, athletic fields and golf courses to ensure that a limited amount of phosphorus and nitrogen is applied, and create a certification process for professional fertilizer applicators.

Tax Breaks for Industrial Polluters: We strongly oppose an effort from Representative Ortitay which aims to incentivize the construction of new  petrochemical and fertilizer manufacturing plants (which run on PA methane) across the state. Luckily, the bill has yet to make it out of committee, but the bill is expected to move in the coming months.