Environment, Planning, Agriculture, & Natural Resources Departments Brief Senate Committee

On January 27 the acting secretaries for the Maryland Departments of Agriculture (MDA), Environment (MDE), Natural Resources (DNR), and Planning (MDP)briefed the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs (EHE) Committee on the structure and duties of their respective departments.

In addition to their basic functions, EHE members also asked the departments about pending issues, such as the phosphorus management tool (or PMT) and the preservation of open space.

Watch EHE Briefing

(MDA Section starts at 6:50, MDE Section starts at 1:00:20, DNR Section starts at 1:24:10, MDP Section starts at 1:59:55)

 

Harford Executive Signs County Stormwater Fee Repeal

A January 27 Baltimore Sun article reported that Harford County Executive Barry Glassman has signed legislation repealing the County’s state-mandated stormwater remediation fee. Collections would end on June 30, the end of the current fiscal year.  The fee repeal legislation was unanimously passed by the Council on January 20.  From the article:

Joining Glassman in his office for the bill signing were Council President Richard Slutzky and council members Patrick Vincenti, Curtis Beulah and Jim McMahan.  …

Last week, [Glassman] noted the county would not abandon its responsibilities to reduce runoff going into the bay, but would take another approach to funding such initiatives, a point he also made in his December inaugural address. …

Cindy Mumby, Glassman’s spokesperson, said Friday the county executive intends to use general operating revenue to fund the stormwater program’s administration in future budgets and also will include a capital expenditure component in the 2015-16 county budget he submits in mid-April.

 

Ag Preservation Foundation Highlights Successes

The Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation released its FY 2014 Annual Report recently. The report reviews the many accomplishments the Foundation had in 2014, including:

At the end of FY 2014, we had purchased easements on a cumulative total of 2,154 properties, permanently preserving about 292,357 acres, at a total state investment of just over $645 million.

As a result the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation

is one of the most successful programs of its kind in the country

The Annual Report also had a break down of all the county land Easement Settlements in FY 2014. Last year, Baltimore and Frederick counties had the most number of easements, Queen Anne’s County had the most number of acres preserved, and Anne Arundel County had the highest aquistion cost per acre.

For the full article and more county information visit the MALPF website online.

Marc Steiner’s “Soundbites” Series Explores Maryland’s Agriculture Policies

The Marc Steiner Show

 

The Marc Steiner Show on WEAA 88.9 FM radio is running on ongoing series called Soundbites that examines Maryland’s agricultural and food policies.  Previous January segments have discussed the potential ramifications of the Hudson v. Waterkeeper case on future State environmental policies, how the proposed phosphorus management tool (PMT) regulations and legislation will fare during the 2015 Session, and global food trends.  The audio of each segment is available through the link provided above.

A January 27 segment (online audio still pending) discussed changes in the State’s agricultural and environmental policies by Governor Larry Hogan.

 

Montgomery Bans Styrofoam Packaging

A January 20 Montgomery County Council press release announced the Council’s unanimous vote to ban the use of polystyrene foam in certain food containers and utensils and packing materials in favor of compostable or recyclable alternatives.  From the press release:

The bill, whose chief sponsor was Councilmember Hans Riemer and which was co-sponsored by Council President George Leventhal and Councilmember Marc Elrich, will prohibit the use and sale of polystyrene foam food service products and the sale of polystyrene loose fill packaging (packing peanuts) effective Jan. 1, 2016. The bill will also require the use of compostable or recyclable single-use disposable food service ware, such as plates, bowls, cups and eating utensils by the County Government and its contractors effective Jan. 1, 2016, and for private businesses effective Jan. 1, 2017.

The bill prohibits the use of foam food service products by food service businesses and the sale of foam loose fill packaging (packing peanuts) and bulk foam food service products. Among the items that the bill covers are containers, plates, cups, trays and egg cartons. Products packaged outside the County before receipt by the food service business, and materials used to package raw meat, seafood or poultry, are exempt from the prohibition.

The bill was approved by a vote of 8-0. Councilmember Nancy Navarro was absent from the meeting due to a death in her family.

Councilmembers cited the non-biodegradable nature of polystyrene, its carcinogenic properties, and the availability of compostable or recyclable alternatives as reasons for passing the bill.

Partners for Open Space Defend POS at Appropriations Hearing

PARTNERS for OPEN SPACE

At a January 20 briefing before the House Appropriations Committee on the Chesapeake Bay, representatives from Partners for Open Space defended the importance of Program Open Space (POS) to both the State and local governments.  As part of their testimony, the representatives submitted a handout that summarized the program and made a series of recommendations to ensure future funding. The handout was prepared with input many of the concerned stakeholders, including MACo and county parks and recreation directors.

The handout detailed the history of POS, its recent funding challenges, the accomplishments of the program, and offered a series of recommendations designed to keep the program functioning and sustainable.  From the handout:

A 1969 law created the real estate transfer tax that provides dedicated funding for land preservation. This formula funding is why the state of Maryland has been a national leader in preserving land and providing parks and recreation. Consistent funding levels for Program Open Space are essential to support key new land acquisitions, parks, active recreation facilities and farms. …

Recommendations:

No Diversion – Do not divert dedicated Program Open Space funding to other purposes.  By law the transfer tax is supposed to be dedicated to land conservation, park creation, historic preservation and agricultural preservation and should be used for those purposes.

No Cap – Legislators have proposed a $100 million cap on the program.  This program has tremendous economic and environmental benefits and has significant ongoing need for funding.

 Return to Cash Funding – Bond funding creates unnecessary competition for the state’s limited debt capacity.

Lockbox  – As was done for the Transportation Trust Fund in the 2014 General Assembly session,  “lockbox” legislation should be passed to create a dedicated trust fund to hold annual Program Open Space transfer tax revenue for its dedicated purpose.  We must protect open space  at a similar rate as acres being  developed. This powerful vision will ensure that Maryland, despite its high density of population and ever increasing levels of development, will remain among the most attractive, scenic and desirable states in which to live and work on the Eastern seaboard, and will produce incredible economic advantages for Maryland.

Partners for Open Space Handout

EPA Expects One Million Public Comments on Pending “Waters of the US” Rule

The National Association of Counties (NAC0) reported in a January 21 teleconference update that the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has processed close to 900,000 public comments on its proposed “Waters of the United States” definitional rule change to the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) and expects that total to reach nearly 1 million by the time EPA finishes.  The public comment period to respond has now closed.

NACo stated that EPA intends to release a final rule by April 2015 but members of both the United States House of Representatives and Senate plan to introduce legislation to negate the proposed rule and force EPA and the United States Army Corps of Engineers to work with the states and write a new rule.

There will be a bicameral hearing on the state and local implications of the proposed rule on February 4 at 10 AM at the House Visitors Center of the United States Capitol.  NACo intends to provide county witnesses.

MACo submitted comments to EPA on November 3, 2014,  expressing concern that rule would expand the “waters of the US” definition to include (1) county maintained road and drainage ditches; and (2) stormwater management structures, including environmental site design (ESD) structures such as rain gardens and vegetated swales.  Inclusion under the definition could subject those structures to federal permitting requirements and enhanced water quality standards, creating greater costs and uncertainty for counties already struggling to meet Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) water pollution reductions.  It could also encourage additional litigation over county municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) permits.  MACo requested that ditches and stormwater structures not already subject to the CWA be explicitly excluded from the proposed definition.

NACo subsequently submitted its own comments, calling for the proposed rule to be withdrawn.

MACo Comments on Waters of the US

NACo Waters of the US Resource Page

EPA Questions and Answers About Proposed Waters of the US Definition

Prior Conduit Street Coverage