MACo Backs Vessel Excise Tax Cap

On January 27, 2016 Andrea Mansfield, on behalf of MACo, testified to the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee in support of SB 58, Natural Resources – Vessel Excise Tax Cap – Repeal of Termination.

During the economic downturn, Maryland experienced a significant reduction in the number of boats registered in Maryland, negatively affecting the boating industry and funds going into the Waterway Improvement fund (WIF). The WIF finances projects that promote, develop, and maintain Maryland’s waterways and provides matching grants to counties for the construction of facilities, vessels, and equipment.

To spur the industry and increase revenue going into the WIF, the General Assembly enacted Chapter 180, Acts of 2013, that imposed a $15,000 cap on the vessel excise tax. Data indicates that the imposition of this cap has spurred the sale of higher-end vessels and is having a positive effect on the boating industry in Maryland.

Prior to the 2013 legislation, Maryland’s vessel excise tax required boat owners to pay 5 percent of the value of their boat if they bought it in the state or keep it here longer than 90 days a year. This bill would permanently keep in place the vessel excise tax cap of $15,000, which is due to terminate as of June 30, 2016.

MACo’s written testimony states:

The study found that the number of higher-end boats registered in Maryland during the two years the cap was in place increased significantly. Although the additional revenue didn’t fully offset the amount of revenue that would have been generated without the cap, the study indicates that the cap has had a positive effect on the boating industry in Maryland and that it should be continued.

An identical cross-filed bill, HB 14, was heard on January 27 in the House.

For more on MACo 2016 legislation, visit the Legislative Database.

 

MACo Advocates for Expansion of Clean Energy Loan Program

Andrea Mansfield, on behalf of MACo, testified in support of SB 173, Local Government – Clean Energy Loan Program – Commercial Property Owners – Renewable Energy Projects, on January 27, 2016 to the Senate Finance Committee.

Clean energy loan programs, first authorized in 2009, create a significant opportunity for local governments to help commercial and residential property owners reduce carbon emissions and improve the environment. When originally enacted, statutory language limited financing for commercial property owners to renewable energy projects with an electric generating capacity of not more than 100 kilowatts.

This bill would expand commercial financing options available through clean energy loan programs by removing the limitation that commercial renewable energy projects generate no more than 100 kilowatts.

MACo’s written testimony states:

Maryland has set ambitious goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Larger scale renewable energy projects financed through Clean Energy Loan Programs could help the state meet these goals. Removing the limitation on the electric generating capacity of renewable energy projects could also serve as an incentive for more local governments to establish clean energy loan programs.

An identical cross-filed bill, HB 105, was heard on January 28 in the House.

For more information on 2016 MACo legislation, visit the Legislative Database.

MACo Raises Delegation and Funding Diversion Issues on BAT Septic System Bill

MACo Executive Director Michael Sanderson requested amendments to legislation (HB 90) that would expand the use of the Bay Restoration Fund (BRF) to assist low income homeowners with operation and maintenance contracts for septic systems using best available technology for nitrogen removal (BAT). While supportive of the basic concept, MACo is concerned about the imposition of new administrative oversight requirements on county governments and potentially limiting the BRF funding from being used for other authorized and necessary uses.

The bill requires the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to pay up to 50% of the cost of a 3-year operation and maintenance contract with BRF monies. Either MDE or a local government will determine an applicant’s eligibility and the amount of assistance MDE must provide based on the average cost of a 3-year contract in the applicant’s region. The bill defines “low-income homeowner” as having income that is 60% or less of the area median income. Delegate Stephen Lafferty introduced the bill.

From the MACo testimony:

MACo has no issue with requiring the use of a BAT septic system within a critical area as their nitrogen removal effectiveness has been shown to be highest there. MACo is also supportive of providing [operation and maintenance]assistance to low income homeowners as most BAT systems need ongoing maintenance in order to remain effective.

However, MACo is concerned with two of the bill’s provisions and would offer amendments to address our concerns. First, MACo believes that it should be a local decision whether the local government reviews potential applications under the bill – this “Delegation” should not solely be at the Department’s discretion. Second, MACo believes that some cap or limit needs to be placed on the amount of BRF funding provided for this purpose so that other allowed uses of the BRF septics account remain viable. As the bill’s fiscal note indicates, the total amount of grants MDE is able to issue under the account will likely decrease, potentially dramatically, without some protection as our amendment suggests.

 

Useful Links

HB 90

MACo HB 90 Testimony

Delegate Stephen Lafferty Webpage

Information on BRF

For more on MACo 2016 legislation, visit the Legislative Database.

 

MACo Concerned About Bag Bill’s Effect on Working Families & Small Businesses

MACo submitted written testimony at the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs hearing (2016-02-02) opposing legislation (SB 57) that would impose a fee on grocery store paper bags and ban the use of plastic bags for most uses. Senator Victor Ramirez is the bill’s primary sponsor.

The bill, titled the “Community Cleanup and Greening Act of 2016,” would prohibit a store from distributing plastic disposable carryout bags to customers at no cost, with certain exceptions such as bags for frozen foods or meat or flowers or other damp items. Stores would also be required to collect a 10-cent fee for each paper disposable carryout bag provided to a customer (again subject to certain exclusions for pharmacy bags and restaurant carry-out bags). A store may retain 5 cents from each 10-cent fee or 7 cents if the store has a bag credit program (the store pays a customer a credit of at least 5 cents for each bag the customer provides for packaging the customer’s purchases).

Any remaining funds go to the Comptroller of Maryland, who retains an amount necessary for the administration of monies, and the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation, which receives a portion to cover implementation and enforcement costs. If any funds remain after that, they go to the counties, proportional to the counties’ population for recycling and litter control, community greening, and water pollution reduction projects.

While noting the valid environmental issues posed by plastic bags, MACo expressed concern that the imposition of the 10-cent fee would pose a hardship on both small businesses and working families. From the MACo testimony:

Plastic bags and even paper bags pose environmental challenges and their usage needs to be addressed. However, MACo is concerned that the imposition of the 10-cent fee per paper bag would, over time, constitute an onerous and challenging cost for many working families. Additionally, small businesses would face challenges and costs to implement the bill’s provisions, and if they chose, the bag credit program.

The bill’s cross-file, HB 31, is scheduled to be heard by the House Environmental Matters Committee on February 10.

Useful Links

SB 57

MACo SB 57 Testimony

Prior Conduit Street Coverage on Plastic Bag Fees or Taxes

Senator Victor Ramirez Webpage

For more on 2016 MACo legislation, visit the Legislative Database.

 

MACo Opposes Repeal of State Board of Environmental Health Specialists

On February 3, 2016 Natasha Mehu, MACo Policy Analyst, testified in opposition to SB 200, Health Occupations – Environmental Health Specialists – Regulation, to the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee.

This bill would repeal the State Board of Environmental Health Specialists and shift licensure responsibilities to the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA).

The proposed change will have a negative and costly impact on our local governments and the environmental health specialists that they employ. Both employee recruitment and employee retention will suffer as a result of this bill.

The field of environmental health already faces difficulties attracting new workers. NEHA licensure requirements will create a more stringent and expensive path to licensure than what is currently in place in Maryland – an additional deterrent to new employee prospects.

The shift also presents a threat to retaining existing employees due to the fact that there is no guarantee of reciprocity with current state licensed specialists.

In many cases these hard-working and experienced employees will have to take and pass the NEHA exam to continue their work. An additional subset of employees may not be able to meet the minimum education requirements under NEHA, requirements that did not exist when they were first licensed to practice in the state.

From the MACo testimony,

MACo is concerned that shifting state licensure oversight and requirements to the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) will create barriers to employment and result in a loss of employees. Counties rely on their staff of environmental health specialists to perform inspections and enforce compliance with health and environmental laws that help ensure citizens are safe. For decades, the state board has been instrumental in ensuring there has been a knowledgeable, skilled, and disciplined environmental specialist workforce in the state.

An identical cross-filed bill, HB 497, will be heard on February 9 in the House.

For more on MACo 2016 legislation, visit the Legislative Database.

 

 

 

 

MACo Calls For County Input on Anaerobic Digestion & Recycling Facility Legislation

At the bill hearing before the House Environment and Transportation Committee (2016-01-27), MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp supported with amendments legislation (HB 61) that would enact new regulations for recycling and anaerobic digestion facilities. The legislation was sponsored by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). Knapp’s proposed amendments would require MDE to consult with MACo and other affected stakeholders when creating and adopting the new regulations for recycling facilities and anaerobic digestion facilities. From MACo’s testimony:

Anaerobic digestion is a promising technology that can help both urban and rural counties address food, human, animal, and other organic waste while simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions and generating power. However, anaerobic digestion facilities have no chance of becoming widespread in Maryland until there is regulatory certainty over how they should operate.

Additionally, as materials recovery facilities (MRFs) sort and process recyclables collected through the single stream process, they are handling increasing amounts of what is currently defined as non-recyclable “solid waste.” Under current law, this could trigger the need for MRFs to apply for a solid waste disposal permit – an expensive and cumbersome requirement that was never intended to apply to them. HB 61 would allow MDE to adopt regulations to require recycling facilities like MRFs to meet reasonable public safety and health requirements while avoiding the need to apply for a solid waste permit. …

Given the potential impacts these regulations will have on the counties, MACo feels that it is only fair to give counties and other affected stakeholders a voice in their creation. A similar open process was recently used when MDE adopted regulations for composting facilities. MACo is offering the attached amendment to provide that voice.

Among the bill’s opponents was Food and Water Watch.

Useful Links

HB 61

MACo HB 61 Testimony

MDE Website

Wikipedia Entry on Anaerobic Digestion

 

Third Time’s a Charm? Workgroup Tackles Nutrient Credit Trading

A newly formed Maryland Water Quality Trading Advisory Committee held its first meeting on January 21 in a third attempt to create a nutrient credit trading policy among different water pollution sectors (agriculture, nonpoint sources like stormwater, and point sources like wastewater treatment plants.) The a successful trading policy can help county governments achieve their water quality goals under both the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permits.

The previous two attempts were combined with the State’s efforts to create a required water pollution offset policy for new growth, dubbed “Accounting for Growth.” Currently, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), in concert with the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA), is tackling the trading policy first and will work on the offset policy (now called “Aligning for Growth”) separately.

From a MDE press release (2016-01-20):

“Nutrient trading means upgrading and accelerating the Bay cleanup through teamwork and innovation,” Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles said. “The committee members’ knowledge and insight will be critical to the development and implementation of a trading program that boosts our environmental progress, with clear and verifiable results.”

“The Maryland Department of Agriculture, like our partner, the Department of the Environment, believes water quality trading can be a valuable tool in restoring the Bay and its tributaries. The department has helped to lay the foundation for a successful program by leading the development of an online trading platform, establishing the Agricultural Certainty Program and developing regulations to support trading activities,” said Agriculture Secretary Joe Bartenfelder.

In recent years, nutrient trading has emerged as a promising strategy for bringing cost-effectiveness and market-driven efficiency to the achievement of nutrient reduction goals. Nutrient trading is an important element of Maryland’s approach for restoring the Bay by creating opportunities for the sectors facing the highest costs to meet a portion of their responsibilities by purchasing offsets or credits created by other sources. …

The path forward on nutrient trading includes the issuance, with input from the Maryland Water Quality Trading Advisory Committee, of a policy manual and guidelines that would be used to initiate trades within Maryland.  It also includes the adoption of regulations proposed by the Maryland Department of Agriculture establishing the requirements and standards for the generation, verification and certification of nutrient and sediment credits on agricultural lands. …

The Maryland Water Quality Trading Advisory Committee will act as an ongoing consultative group to provide direction to the overall trading program and to oversee further enhancement of the trading infrastructure.  Its first task will be to review and refine a comprehensive Maryland Trading Manual document.  A series of four initial meetings is anticipated, with the goal of finalizing a manual document and identifying other necessary actions by the end of April.

County members include: (1) Erik Michelsen, Anne Arundel County Department of Public Works; (2) Shannon Moore, Frederick County Sustainability & Environmental Resources Office; (3) Jim Caldwell, Howard County Office of Community Sustainability; (4) Lisa Feldt, Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection; and (5) Leslie Knapp, Jr., MACo. Candace Donoho is representing the Maryland Municipal League and Chris Pomeroy of AquaLaw is representing the Maryland Association of Municipal Wastewater Agencies and the Maryland Municipal Stormwater Association.

Other members include representatives from various Maryland departments, the General Assembly, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and the development, agricultural, academic, and environmental communities. The Workgroup’s next scheduled meeting will be in Annapolis on February 22.

Useful Links

MDE and MDA Nutrient Credit Trading Policy Statement (2015-10-23)

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of Accounting for Growth Policy

Plastic Bags No Longer Accepted in St. Mary’s County Single Stream Recycling

A Southern Maryland News Net article (2016-01-19) announced that plastic bags and plastic film will no longer be accepted as part of single stream recycling in St. Mary’s County due to damage to recycling and sorting equipment. Instead, these products must now be recycled separately at participating local stores. From the article:

St. Mary’s County has been informed that plastic bags and plastic film can no longer be recycled with the other single stream recyclables currently collected at the six Convenience Centers. Plastic bags (i.e. grocery, tall kitchen, and heavy duty bags) create operational problems, safety concerns, and hazards to the processor’s equipment, specifically the conveyor belts used in sorting single stream recyclables…Loads with plastic bags/plastic film will be considered “contaminated” and rejected, causing additional fees for the County and zero credit toward its recycling efforts. …

St. Mary’s County is researching user-friendly alternatives for the separate collection of plastic bags, evaluating TREX as a recycling possibility, and exploring the feasibility of using other recycling processors. The County appreciates those citizens who realize the environmental and cost benefits of recycling and trust recycling efforts will continue.

The article also noted that St. Mary’s County ranks third out of Maryland counties with populations of 150,000 or less with a 2014 recycling rate of 44.2% and a waste diversion rate of just over 50%.

Strong Opinions Offered On Proposed Howard County Stormwater Fee Repeal

A Baltimore Sun article (2016-01-20) reported on a well-attended Howard County Council hearing that considered a proposal by County Executive Allan Kittleman and Council Member Greg Fox to phase out the County’s stormwater remediation fee (also known as the “rain tax”). The public hearing was held on January 19.  The article noted that most public testimony came from supporters of the fee but both sides made their voices heard. From the article:

“If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” said Paige Getty, co-chairwoman of [People Acting Together (PATH)], a coalition of neighborhoods and congregations in Howard County.”[We are] here tonight to say that the stormwater fee ‘ain’t broke.'” …

“This bill is a direct result of shortsighted, factually inaccurate and politically driven rhetoric that threatens to take Howard County back to a place where waters continue to be polluted,” [Chesapeake Bay Foundation staff attorney Elaine] Lutz said. “It also very ironically depends on the very fee revenue that this repeal would remove.”

Paul Lemle, president of the Howard County Education Association, called the fee a “good public policy” and “necessary revenue.”

The proposed repeal would halve the county’s fee in FY 2017 and phase it out completely in FY 2018.  The article noted that the fee generates approximately $10 million annually. Kittleman’s Chief of Staff Diane Wilson argued that the lost revenue would be replaced through other funding sources:

[Wilson] said she did not anticipate any cuts as a result of the change, calling the bill a “change in funding source,” not a change in the county’s commitment to the Chesapeake Bay.

In fiscal year 2017, $3.2 million would come from state grants, $4.7 from a reserve fund balance, $5.5 million from previous fee payments and $10.2 in government obligated bonds, Wilson said.

In fiscal year 2018, $2 million would come from state grants, $1 million from anticipated transfer taxes, $5 million in pay-go funding and $19 million from government obligated bonds, she said.

The County Executive’s office plans to provide further fiscal details on replacing the fee next week. The article noted that a few supporters of the bill also testified:

Pete Mangione, owner of Turf Valley, was one of a handful of voices supporting the phase out of the fee.

“To me this is another tax or fee being put on business,” said Mangione. “Many people seem to think that businesses can absorb it but we can’t.”

Legislation from 2012 mandated that 10 counties subject to Phase 1 Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permits adopt a stormwater remediation fee. However, 2015 legislation repealed the mandate but counties must still provide funding to meet their stormwater pollution reduction goals under the permit.

Useful Links

Environmental Groups Outline 2016 Legislative and Budget Initiatives

A MyEasternShoreMD article (2016-01-11) reported that the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, Preservation Maryland, Maryland League of Conservation Voters, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation outlined their 2016 legislative and budget initiatives at January 6 preview session in Easton.

Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC)

ESLC’s priorities included: (1) protecting state and local Program Open Space funding; and (2) funding of the Rural Maryland Prosperity Investment Fund.

Josh Hastings, project manager at ESLC, called for putting a lockbox on Program Open Space, to halt legislators from raiding it as they have in recent years to balance the state budget.

Preservation Maryland

Preservation Maryland is also focused on protecting and strengthening funding for land preservation grant programs.

During last year’s session, [Nick Redding of Preservation Maryland] said, the preservation organization community was focused on keeping established what funding it had, because there has been a “precipitous” drop in rural preservation funding.

“Moving forward for ‘16, the goal is to increase overall funding,” Redding said. “A lot of people will tell you, ‘Now is not the time to do that.’ But we’ve gone five years and have seen the vast majority of all of our grant programs slashed to zero dollars.”

Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF)

CBF will be supporting a bill that will require poultry integrators to be responsible for the poultry waste generated on their contract farms. Poultry farms are blamed for generating a significant amount of the phosphorus pollution entering the Chesapeake Bay and local Eastern Shore waterways.

Alan Girard, the Eastern Shore director for [CBF], sought support for a bill that would require poultry companies, such as Perdue, Mountaire and others, to dispose of chicken manure if the chicken farmer or other farms have no use or can’t use it on their fields as fertilizer for crops. …

The bill, which Girard said will arise this year in the legislative session, would grant the chicken farmer first dibs on the manure. If fields are too saturated with phosphorus and it can’t be applied, or another farmer can’t use the manure, the chicken companies, or integrators, would be responsible to transport and dispose of it within one year.

Maryland League of Conservation Voters (MDLCV)

MDLCV will be focused on regulating the use of and educating the public about neonicotinoid pesticides in response to potential health and environmental concerns.

Ben Alexandro, water policy advocate with [MDLCV], said the organization will advocate for a bill that seeks to educate the public on a pesticide recent studies have shown could be dangerous to unborn babies, bees and the Bay. …

Neonicotinoids act as neurotoxins for insects, Alexandro said, but they don’t just effect the insects they’re meant to. Another study indicated they could effect brain development in unborn children, he said. …

The bill would not ban the pesticide outright, but it would try to educate the public and require a permit to sell it and require labeling in stores.

Legislator Response

Maryland Senator Adelaide “Addie” Eckardt also spoke at the preview session and noted that protecting or increasing funding for programs can be challenging when the State is still facing a long-term structural deficit.

Maryland Senator Addie Eckardt (Source: Maryland Manual On-Line)
Maryland Senator Addie Eckardt
(Source: Maryland Manual On-Line)

“When there are more revenues than there have been in the past, everybody comes into my office with more pleas,” Eckardt said. “Everybody wants more funding and new initiatives, and I think that’s going to be the challenge this year with the budget — how do we restrain spending more that would aggravate that structural deficit that we’ve lived with for so many years.”

Useful Links

Chesapeake Bay Foundation Website

Eastern Shore Land Conservancy Website

Maryland League of Conservation Voters Website

Preservation Maryland Website