Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement Management Strategies Being Finalized

As previously reported on Conduit Street, Maryland joined the other Chesapeake Bay states in signing a broad new watershed agreement in June of 2014.  This agreement was less specific than the 3 prior agreements but its 10 goals and 29 outcomes included new issues, such as climate change and pollution from toxins.   Conduit Street also reported that management strategies would be created through the Chesapeake Bay Program for each of the 29 outcomes.  Each Bay state would choose which of the outcomes it wished to pursue – Maryland chose to pursue all 29 outcomes.

The strategies are currently being finalized, with public comment ending a few weeks ago.  The strategies cover a broad range of issues, including climate adaptation, fish habitat, forest buffers, wetlands, 2017 and 2025 watershed implementation plans, toxic contaminants policy and prevention, land use methods and metrics development, local leadership, and diversity.  Many of these strategies have the potential to affect local governments,  although only those strategies dealing with water quality specifically require local government participation.

Once the strategies are finalized, work with begin on creating work plans to implement the strategies.  Draft work plans are expected to be finished by October and put out for public comment.  Completed work plans will be due in late December of 2015 or mid-January of 2016.

The Bay Program continues to hold meetings on the different strategies and work plans.  For example, the Partnering and Leadership Goal Team, which is finalizing the local leadership management strategy, met on May 18.

Please contact Les Knapp at 410.269.0043 or lknapp@mdcounties.org if you have questions about the management strategies or work plans or upcoming goal team meetings.

Chesapeake Bay Management Strategies Dashboard

Chesapeake Watershed Agreement 2014

Test Results Bode Well For Biosolid Composting Collaboration Between Anne Arundel County & Baltimore City

The Spring 2015 Edition of Waste Watch, published by the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority, reported that the successful conclusion of a pilot project on biosolid recycling in Anne Arundel County may result in an ongoing collaboration between the County’s Cox Creek Water Reclamation Facility (WRF) and the Baltimore City Compost Facility. From the article:

The pilot project was designed to study the feasibility of Anne Arundel County utilizing the City Compost Facility to process biosolids produced during the wastewater treatment process. It was inspired by the fact that a portion of the County’s biosolids have long been transported out of state, where it is land-applied for agricultural use. Maryland regulations regarding application and storage of nutrients have been tightening, resulting in a restriction of land application activities in Maryland to certain seasons.

With this issue in mind, the Authority, while negotiating a 2013 contract extension with Veolia North America (owner and operator of the Baltimore City Compost Facility), also negotiated an agreement for the Facility to accept and process biosolids from other Authority Jurisdictions. Veolia accepted the agreement based on the prerequisite that processing biosolids from other jurisdictions would not interfere with its ability to process biosolids from Baltimore City’s Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant (WTP). …

The Authority is working with Anne Arundel County to explore the economic feasibility of a more permanent arrangement for processing solids at the Baltimore City Compost Facility. This collaboration has the potential to be a winning proposition for Veolia, Anne Arundel County, and the City of Baltimore.

 

Climate Change Mitigation Working Group Underway

The Maryland Commission on Climate Change, which is housed within the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) has launched several working groups to handle different aspects of climate change, including adaptation, mitigation, and public outreach. The Mitigation Working Group will recommend strategies to help the State reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 25% of 2006 levels by 2020, as required under Maryland’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan.

The Mitigation Working Group is composed stakeholders representing the State, environmental community, commercial builders, energy sector, research institutions, labor, and local governments.  MACo Legal and Policy Director Les Knapp is a county government representative.  The Working Group held its first meeting on May 6 which was primarily organizational in nature. It met again on May 21, where it heard about greenhouse gas reduction efforts by Department of Natural Resources and the Maryland Energy Administration.  The Workgroup plans to have its recommendations and report to the Commission finalized by mid-August.

In addition to the general meetings, the Working Group will also be holding a series of subgroup meetings to look at topics more in-depth.  These include meetings on energy (May 28 from 1:00 PM – 3:00 PM at MDE) and transportation/land use (mid-June, location to be determined).  Other possible subgroup meetings could review the climate change strategies economic impact analysis, lead by example programs, local initiatives, and college action plans.

If you want more information about the Mitigation Working Group, please contact Les Knapp at 410.269.0043 or lknapp@mdcounties.org.  You may also submit comments to the Commission at climate.change@maryland.gov.

 

 

Did EPA Help Generate Positive Public Comments on Waters of the US Rule?

A lengthy May 18 New York Times article reported on allegations that the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may have helped manufacture many of the public comments in support of its controversial change to definition of “waters of the United States” under the federal Clean Water Act.  As previously reported on Conduit Street, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and United States Army Corps of Engineers are moving to finalize the  proposed rule despite: (1) concerns raised by MACo, the National Association of Counties, and numerous other stakeholders; and (2) legislation that is moving through Congress to restart the rule making process.

From the article:

Gina McCarthy, the agency’s administrator, told a Senate committee in March that the agency had received more than one million comments, and nearly 90 percent favored the agency’s proposal. Ms. McCarthy is expected to cite those comments to justify the final rule, which the agency plans to unveil this week.

But critics say there is a reason for the overwhelming result: The E.P.A. had a hand in manufacturing it.

In a campaign that tests the limits of federal lobbying law, the agency orchestrated a drive to counter political opposition from Republicans and enlist public support in concert with liberal environmental groups and a grass-roots organization aligned with President Obama. …

The E.P.A.’s campaign highlights the tension between exploiting emerging technologies while trying to abide by laws written for another age.

The article noted that while federal agency leadership can promote proposed policies and support or oppose legislation on behalf of their agency , legal opinions from the Justice Department prohibit agencies from substantial “grass-roots” lobbying that targets the general public or a segment of the general public and urges them to communicate a particular point of view to the government.  EPA’s use of social media and coordination with environmental organizations in support of proposed rule may have violated this prohibition.

Late last year, the E.P.A. sponsored a drive on Facebook and Twitter to promote its proposed clean water rule in conjunction with the Sierra Club. At the same time, Organizing for Action, a grass-roots group with deep ties to Mr. Obama, was also pushing the rule. They urged the public to flood the agency with positive comments to counter opposition from farming and industry groups.

The results were then offered as proof that the proposal was popular. …

The most contentious part of the E.P.A.’s campaign was deploying Thunderclap, a social media tool that spread the agency’s message to hundreds of thousands of people — a “virtual flash mob,” in the words of Travis Loop, the head of communications for E.P.A.’s water division.

The architect of the E.P.A.’s new public outreach strategy is Thomas Reynolds, a former Obama campaign aide who was appointed in 2013 as an associate administrator. “We are just borrowing new methods that have proven themselves as being effective,” he said.

But industry critics said the agency’s actions might be violating federal lobbying laws.

While critics questioned EPA’s actions, EPA denied any wrongdoing:

At minimum, the actions of the agency are highly unusual. “The agency is supposed to be more of an honest broker, not a partisan advocate in this process,” said Jeffrey W. Lubbers, a professor of practice in administrative law at the American University Washington College of Law and the author of the book “A Guide to Federal Agency Rulemaking.”

“I have not seen before from a federal agency this stark of an effort to generate endorsements of a proposal during the open comment period,” he said. …

“The agency has relentlessly campaigned for the rule with tweets and blogs, not informing the public about the rule but influencing the public to advocate for the rule,” said Ellen Steen, general counsel at the American Farm Bureau Federation. “That is exactly what the Anti-Lobbying Act is meant to prevent.” …

“E.P.A. Office of Water’s Twitter account has essentially become a lobbyist for the proposal,” wrote Kevin P. Kelly, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders, in a letter to the E.P.A. protesting the role the agency has played in advocating its clean water proposal. …

Officials at the E.P.A. strongly defend their work — insisting that they did not violate the Anti-Lobbying Law because they never explicitly urged the public to lobby Congress, just to express their support for the plan in a public way.

“We are well within our authority to educate the American people about the importance of what E.P.A. is doing to act on climate change and protect public health,” Mr. Reynolds said. “There is a very clear line, and we never, ever cross it.”

United States Attorney General Opinion on Federal Agency Grass Roots Lobbying

Washington County Commissioners Praise County’s First Single-Stream Recycling Center

A May 14 Herald Mail article reported that the Washington County Board of County Commissioners held a ribbon cutting ceremony to officially acknowledge and praise the Apple Valley Recycling Center.  The facility is the County’s first single-stream recycling center and opened in September of 2014.

“I’m very happy to have Apple Valley Waste locate here in Washington County,” county Commissioner Jeffrey A. Cline said. “The enthusiasm, the willingness to work and to hire people is important, but recycling is the right thing to do. I’m very proud to have a company like Apple Valley Waste here to help us with that.” …

John Decker, managing partner and chief executive officer of Apple Valley Waste, credited the efforts of county agencies with helping to obtain permits and get the project under way, allowing for more locally collected recylables to stay here while diverting waste from county landfills.

“Most of the material from this market was making a trip all the way to Baltimore to be processed, including ours,” Decker said. “The economics of that weren’t very good. The environment impact of that wasn’t very good. So we saw an opportunity to process material right here locally, help the economic situation, really help the environmental situation.”

The article noted that the center processes an average of 20 to 25 truckloads of waste material daily and employs more than 30 employees.

MDE Secretary Seeks to Improve Customer Service & Be More Business Friendly

A May 20 Daily Record article reported that Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles plans to improve the Maryland Department of the Environment’s (MDE’s) customer service and perception among the business community while still furthering the State’s environmental goals.

New Md. environmental chief: Enforcement not ‘first step’

Ben Grumbles (Source: The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

From the article:

Ben Grumbles, Gov. Larry Hogan’s choice to lead the environmental agency, said his challenge will be to “accelerate the pace of environmental progress in Maryland,” including improving the health of the Chesapeake Bay, even as he attempts to improve the perception that his agency contributes significantly to what is seen as an unfriendly business climate in the state.

“The customer isn’t always right, the customer service is always right,” Grumbles said. “An environmental regulatory agency has to say ‘no’ at times. The key to customer service is to communicate clearly and effectively early on and to try to be a problem solver. If you’re going to say ‘no,’ try to say why and also explain what might change that ‘no’ to a ‘maybe’ or to a ‘yes.’” …

The article noted that the relationship between MDE and the business community was criticized during hearings held in 2014 by the Maryland Economic Development and Business Climate Commission (also known as the Augustine Commission):

The commission reported that complaints ranged from difficulties in dealing directly with the agency, including “frustrating, confrontational, inconsistent, time-consuming, arbitrary, and generally unhelpful” interactions; refusals to grant “common sense” exemptions; delays in decisions; refusals to explain decisions; and excessive uses of penalties and other legal actions.

Grumbles explained in the article that he will be to provide the public and businesses with more information through MDE’s website and create  an ombudsman to help businesses comply with environmental regulations. Grumbles also stressed that enforcement should not be MDE’s first option:

Enforcement will still be part of the equation, but Grumbles said it shouldn’t be the first option.

“Enforcement is not a necessary evil,” Grumbles said. “It’s a necessary backstop.”

The first goal should be to provide compliance assistance, he said.

 

WYPR Focuses on Bay, Talks With MDE Secretary Grumbles

On Thursday May 21, the daily WYPR radio show “Midday With Dan Rodricks” included an extended discussion on environmental issues, including a lengthy and informative conversation with Ben Grumbles, Secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment. He talked about implementation of the much-debated phosphorous regulations, and multiple other priorities facing the Department and the state. The conversation was part of an extended series from the show, tagged as “Midday on the Bay.”

To listen to the conversation, visit the WYPR website.

Washington County Projected to be First in State for 100 Percent Green Energy

Washington County leads all other Maryland counties in solar-energy production and is projected to be first in the state for 100 percent green energy.

According to www.your4state.com, Washington County is

Leading in solar energy production by 33.8 megawatts, which represented about 18 percent of the state’s 184 megawatt capacity.

Located behind Kemps Mill Park in Williamsport, the solar array site is one of four in Washington County and is expected to fully power all county government buildings by the end of 2015.

In fact, this would make Washington County the first in the state to obtain 100 percent of its electricity through solar initiative projects on county property. The MEA website states the county’s government uses approximately 14 megawatts of energy and its goal it to have all the electricity utilized by government agents to be 100 percent green energy.

The county will receive more than $375,000 a year in rent and revenue with an estimated $100,000 in energy cost savings.

“It’s going to save the tax payers of Washington County money, because the county is making money off of these solar fields that they have,” [Maryland Senator Ben] Cardin said. “They’re helping our country become energy independent with what’s being done here and they’re also helping our environment with a smaller carbon footprint.”

To read more about Washington County’s green energy, please visit www.your4state.com.

Save the Date: MACo’s Symposium on Chesapeake Bay Water Issues June 24

MACo invites you to save the date for our Symposium “Chesapeake Checkpoint: Where Are We With Water, Pollution, and Bay Cleanup Efforts?” on June 24, 2015 from 10:30 am until 3:30 pm at Quiet Waters Park in Anne Arundel County, MD.

Maryland is working through a complex landscape of plans, commitments, and strategies to improve the quality of our watersheds and the Chesapeake Bay. Many of these arise from laws and regulations adopted over a stretch of several years, but still not fully implemented. At this “checkpoint” we’ll explore – where are we? What’s the status of Watershed Implementation Plans at both the state and local level? What are the standards coming from the federal administrators and from the courts? What is the latest with stormwater, federal permits, litigation, and legislation? What is the role of the Susquehanna River, upstream pollution, and the Conowingo Dam on this outlook? What issues remain unresolved, and where should Maryland be focusing next?

Join MACo and a wide range of stakeholders for a checkup on our treasured water assets and the progress toward our goals and mandates.

FREE registration for this event is currently open for MACo members (Maryland county elected/appointed officials and county staff). Nonmembers may contact MACo to attend for a fee of $75, on a space available basis. Registration is necessary to attend and lunch will be included. More details will follow, including registration, session and speaker details. If you wish to reserve your seat now, please register online through MACo’s website.

Sponsorship opportunities are also available for this event. MACo is offering the following opportunities:

  • Event Sponsor – $2,000 (2 available) – Being an event sponsor provides an opportunity to deliver a participating sponsor message during the session, providing the opportunity to share information about your company to this targeted audience. Signage, verbal acknowledgement and a ticket into the event is included.
  • Co-Sponsor – $500 (unlimited) – Being a co-sponsor provides a ticket into the event as well as signage and verbal acknowledgement.

Please contact Kaley Schultze (kschultze@mdcounties.org) if you’re interested in sponsoring this event.

Thank you Anne Arundel County Parks & Recreation for being a lead sponsor of this symposium.

Region Will Likely Fail To Meet 2017 Bay TMDL Goals; Pennsylvania Key Problem For Nitrogen

An article in the May 2015 edition of the Chesapeake Bay Journal reported that according to recent figures released by the Bay Program, the Maryland region is likely to fail to meet its 2017 pollution reduction goals for nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment under the federally mandated Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load.   The article noted that the main cause of the predicted nitrogen shortfall is Pennsylvania, which has failed to adequately address its nitrogen sources.  From the article:

While overall progress is being made, the figures show no substantial increase in the rate of nitrogen reductions compared with the years immediately preceding the establishment of the pollution diet. In part, that’s because new data show some nitrogen loads, primarily from agriculture, had been underestimated in the past.

As a result, it is increasingly unlikely that the region will meet its interim 2017 reduction goals for nitrogen — the nutrient primarily responsible for the Bay’s summertime dead zone.

The shortfall is driven in large part by Pennsylvania, which faces a huge gap, and where estimated nitrogen loads have actually increased slightly. Other states face problems, though they are smaller in scale.

The sediment goal is also far off the pace needed to meet the 2017 goal.

And, the same is likely true for phosphorus. Although the goals are being met in computer model estimates, the actual loads reaching the Bay from tributaries show a different story, as monitoring by the U.S. Geological Survey shows increasing phosphorus loads from six of the Bay’s nine river basins over the last decade. Therefore, officials believe the phosphorus estimates released in April will be adjusted in the future.

The article discussed the Pennsylvania nitrogen shortfall and its impact on the health of the Bay through the Susquehanna River.

But the data show that 23 million pounds of [a 29 million pound nitrogen gap] stems from Pennsylvania, where computer estimates actually show a slight increase in nitrogen pollution since 2009.

Put another way, Pennsylvania would need to achieve nearly four times as much of a nitrogen reduction as the rest of the watershed combined in the next three years to achieve the interim goal.

The Pennsylvania shortfall is especially problematic for Bay water quality. The Chesapeake is essentially an extension of the Susquehanna River which drains most of Pennsylvania’s portion of the watershed. (A small part of Pennsylvania is in the Potomac basin.)

The Susquehanna is both the Bay’s largest tributary, and its largest source of nitrogen. Pound for pound, nitrogen from the Susquehanna also has a greater impact on dissolved oxygen levels in the Upper Bay than it does from any other river. In fact, scientists each year can predict the size and duration of the Bay’s oxygen-starved summer dead zone based on springtime river flows and nitrogen loads from the Susquehanna.

That means if nitrogen reductions from the Susquehanna are not achieved, it is very difficult to offset them with greater reductions from other areas to meet Bay dissolved oxygen goals.

The article also analyzed the shortfalls in other states and also highlighted the potential underestimating of phosphorus runoff due to soil saturation on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  The United States Environmental Protection Agency will be releasing its own TMDL assessment at the end of May.