Anne Arundel Cuts Water and Sewer Rates

The Anne Arundel County Council voted last evening to reduce water and sewer rates by 2.25%. The water rate per 1,000 gallons of water will drop from $2.76 to $2.70 and the wastewater rate will drop from $4.85 to $4.74.

As reported by The Annapolis Capital,

The bill was introduced by Council Chairman Jerry Walker, R-Crofton, who said he believed the county’s growing utility fund should be redistributed back to the taxpayers. County code suggests a minimum utility fund balance equal to at least two months of expenditures. The legislation passed 6-1, with Councilman John Grasso, R-Glen Burnie, registering the “no” vote.

The utility fund is currently sitting at about a six-month surplus.

Federal Courts Back US EPA’s Authority on Bay TMDL

The EPA has the authority to declare pollution limits in impaired waterways, according to a federal court.

In a much-watched case regarding the US Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to dictate water quality policy to states (specifically the Chesapeake Bay watershed states), the EPA’s authority has been upheld, over the objections of the American Farm Bureau, the National Association of Home Builders, and other stakeholders.

From coverage in the Baltimore Sun:

In a 60-page ruling, the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia brushed aside challenges from agricultural and home building groups to the “pollution diet” that EPA imposed for the bay in 2010.

“Congress made a judgment in the Clean Water Act that the states and the EPA could, working together, best allocate the benefits and burdens of lowering pollution,” Judge Thomas L. Ambro wrote for the three-judge panel that heard the appeal.

The federal agency, acting after more than 25 years of little or no cleanup progress, had set a “total maximum daily load” (TMDL) of nutrients and sediment washing into the Chesapeake from the six bay states and the District of Columbia. EPA set a deadline of 2025 for the states to adopt measures needed to reduce all sources of pollution, or face possible federal sanctions.

Read the full Sun coverage online.

Read the 60-page opinion online at the Third Circuit Court of Appeals website.

Climate Change Commission Hosting Series of Public Listening Sessions on Greenhouse Gas Plan

The Maryland Commission on Climate Change is hosting a series of public listening sessions throughout Maryland to seek feedback on how to proceed with Maryland’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act Plan.  The Plan proposes a series of strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state by 25% from their 2006 levels by 2020.

The Commission will host a five listening sessions throughout the state:

Public Comment Hearings on the MDE GGRA Plan Report

Meeting #1: Tuesday, July 14, 6pm – 8pm
Where: Patterson Park Branch Library, 158 N. Linwood Ave, Baltimore, MD (map)
Meeting #2: Thursday, July 16, 6:00pm – 8:30pm
Where: The Eastern Shore Higher Education Center at Chesapeake Community College, 1000 College Cir, Wye Mills, MD 21679 (map)
Meeting #3: Tuesday, July 28, 6:00pm – 8:30pm

Where: UMCES Appalachian Laboratory, 301 Midlothian Rd, Frostburg, MD 21532 – IVN room (map)
Meeting #4: Tuesday, August 4, 6:00pm – 8:30pm
Where: All Saints Episcopal Parish Hall, Oakley Rd, Avenue, MD 20609 (map)
Meeting #5: Thursday, August 6, 6:00pm – 8:30pm

Where: Prince George’s County Department of Environment Resources headquarters building, 1801 McCormick Drive, Largo, MD 20774 (map)

Survey Finds Excess Food Waste a Costly Problem Both In America & Globally

A July 1, 2015, Baltimore Sun article discussed a recent national survey by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future that Americans are underestimating the significant amount of food waste that they generate.  From the article:

In an online questionnaire filled out by 1,010 people, nearly three-quarters said they discarded less food than the average American. More than half said they threw away just 10 percent of the edibles they bought, while 13 percent claimed they didn’t get rid of any food. Only 3 percent of those participating figured they discarded more than average.

“There’s people that may not want to admit that this is going on — or may not want to admit it to the survey,” said Roni Neff, lead author of the paper, published June 10 in the journal PLOS ONE. …

The reality is far different from such rosy self-perceptions, however. Food waste is a worldwide problem, studies have found — more so in industrialized countries and particularly in the United States. About 40 percent of food produced in this country goes uneaten, reports the Natural Resources Defense Council. That’s more than 20 pounds of food discarded monthly for every American. Globally, a third of all food produced gets wasted, according to a study done for the United Nations.

The article highlighted the environmental and social costs of food waste, noting that much of the wasted food included highly perishable items like fruits and vegetables.

Such waste has enormous social and environmental implications, as the calories thrown out would help meet the daily needs of those who can’t get or afford enough to eat now. The uneaten food also represents a waste of fresh water — up to a third of what’s used to irrigate crops — as well as land, fertilizer and energy. The discards often wind up in landfills and contribute to air and water pollution.

The article noted that better meal planning, more resealable packaging, and increased product size variety could help reduce food waste.  Both France and the United Kingdom have undertaken direct efforts to reduce their own food waste.

While there hasn’t been a concerted effort in this country to cut down on food waste, Neff said there have been a couple of pushes in Europe. France recently banned its supermarkets from throwing out food, requiring them to donate it. Neff said the policy is too new to know how it will work.

But a broader, multi-pronged campaign in the United Kingdom targeting both consumers and businesses with anti-waste messages and incentives yielded a 21 percent drop over five years in avoidable discards of edibles. Neff called that “almost unheard of.”

Maryland Sets Record For Increasing Solar Capacity

A June 27, 2015, Capital Gazette article reported that Maryland has set a record by increasing its new solar capacity by 174 percent in the first quarter of 2015 as compared to the first quarter in 2014.  The record is based on the findings of a solar marketing report from the Solar Energy Industries Association.  From the article:

This [record capacity] pushes the state closer to its goal of having 20 percent of energy from renewable sources by 2022, including 2 percent from solar.

Thirteen percent of Maryland energy production is expected to come from renewable sources by 2015, with new installations going up each year, said Marta Tomic, the Maryland Energy Administration’s Solar & Geothermal Clean Energy Program manager.

“That comes from about 13,000 installed systems in the state,” Tomic said. “The real benefit to folks is having a system that will pay back in under 10 years and generate clean energy.”

In 2006, Maryland was producing less than 0.1 of a megawatt of solar energy. As of this month, the state’s capacity had reached 273 megawatts. That’s enough to power about 30,000 homes, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

The article also discussed the increasing adoption of solar by both homeowners and businesses and the need to update the state’s electrical grid to more efficiently handle alternative energy sources like solar.

Land Preservation Workgroup To Recommend Local Program Open Space Funding Levels

A Land Preservation Workgroup that was established to evaluate and make recommendations regarding land preservation and easement acquisition programs funded through the State transfer tax, including local side Program Open Space (POS),  held its first meeting on June 23, 2015.  The Workgroup was created through budget committee narrative in the Joint Chairmen’s Report for the FY 2016 operating and capital budgets (pages 221-22). From the committee narrative:

The workgroup should provide a report to the budget committees by December 1, 2015, on an evaluation of the full suite of land preservation and easement acquisition programs – Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Program, Program Open Space – State and Local, Rural Legacy Program, and Maryland Environmental Trust – covering the roles the programs play relative to each other and current statute, and the funding each receives through the transfer tax formula. Topics of study should include the pros and cons of combining some or all of the land preservation and easement acquisition programs, and the possible expansion of State and local revenue generating opportunities from multi-use State working lands. In addition, specific programs should be evaluated as follows: …

Program Open Space – Local – the appropriate percentage of funding to be devoted to acquisition of land before development projects may be funded, the trade-offs associated with increasing/decreasing this percentage, the current status of county fulfillment of the land acquisition requirement, and the status of the requirement to evaluate the Program Open Space – Local allocation formula annually by a committee; …

Following the workgroup-led review, it is the intent of the budget committees that the land preservation and easement acquisition programs be fully funded with the transfer tax at the level recommended in the report.

Maryland Association of County Park and Recreation Administrators (MACPRA) President and Howard County Parks and Recreation Director John Byrd and Anne Arundel County Department of Recreation and Parks Director Rick Anthony are the two county representatives on the Workgroup.  Secretary of Natural Resources Mark Belton is the chair of the Workgroup.

The first meeting was largely organizational with Workgroup members introducing themselves and receiving overviews of the five programs that the Workgroup will review.  Representatives from the Maryland Municipal League and municipal parks and recreation departments proposed that municipalities should receive a designated share of local POS directly, rather than going through the counties.  MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp countered that unlike municipalities, counties face significant land acquisition and preservation goals and that municipalities already have a dedicated funding source through the Community Parks and Playgrounds program.

The next meeting of the is scheduled for July 21 at the Department of Natural Resources from 1:30 PM – 3:30 PM.  For further information, please contact Les Knapp (lknapp@mdcounties.org) or Andrea Mansfield (amansfield@mdcounties.org).

MACo Chesapeake Checkpoint Symposium Draws Crowd From Across State

Nearly 70 people attended MACo’s Chesapeake Checkpoint Symposium on June 24, 2015, to hear updates about the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and discuss issues around the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permits  and nutrient and sediment pollution from the Susquehanna River/Conowingo Dam.  Attendees included Maryland Delegate Stephen Lafferty, Secretary of Planning David Craig, and county elected officials and personnel from as far west as Allegany County and as far east as Somerset and Wicomico Counties.

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Audience members listen to a federal and state update on the status of the Bay TMDL (Click on photo to enlarge)

Speakers included Secretary of the Environment Benjamin Grumbles, Secretary of Natural Resources Mark Belton, and representatives from the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Maryland State Builders Association, Maryland Farm Bureau, Clean Chesapeake Coalition, American Rivers, Exelon, AquaLaw, and Anne Arundel, Montgomery, and Cecil Counties.  The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments helped moderate the MS4 discussion panel.

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Anne Arundel Council Member Chris Trumbauer (standing in white shirt) provides welcoming remarks at the start of the symposium (Click on photo to enlarge)

Secretary Grumbles reiterated his desire to work collaboratively with county governments to allow for the most cost effective and flexible solutions possible to meet TMDL goals.  He also announced that the Department of the Environment would be resuming their work on establishing an Accounting for Growth policy, which is required as part of Maryland’s Watershed Implementation Plan.  Secretary Belton discussed the work of the Department of Natural Resources in establishing management strategies and implementation plans to meet the larger water quality and habitat goals found in the 2014 Bay watershed agreement.

Each attending county also provided a brief update of their TMDL progress and challenges during the lunch break. At the breakout session for MS4 counties, participants created a list of seven MS4 issues that MACo and the counties plan to present to Secretary Grumbles in July.

Anne Arundel County Department of Parks and Recreation hosted the symposium at Quiet Waters park and Funk & Bolton PA and the Local Government Insurance Trust were sponsors of the event.

For further information, please contact Les Knapp at 410.269.0043 or lknapp@mdcounties.org.

Allegany County CIP Includes Bridge Replacement, New Water Treatment Plant

A June 22, 2015, Cumberland Times-News article reported that the 2016-20 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) just passed by the Allegany County commissioners includes the necessary replacement of the Orleans Road Bridge, which is prone to flooding, and a new water treatment plant on the Potomac River.  According to the article, the CIP lists $16.4 million in projects, with the County likely have to fund $5.0 million of those costs.  Planned County expenditures for CIP projects includes $1.5 million in 2016 and $2.1 million in 2017. From the article:

The Little Orleans low-water bridge was built in 1938 by the New Deal Works Projects Administration, and floods regularly. The county has already spent $322,000 on the bridge replacement project, with no dirt being moved. County officials hope that after scaling back the project, that situation will change. The CIP budgets county funds of $50,000 for the bridge in 2016 and $525,000 in 2017, with the full cost of the project set as $3.7 million.

A feasibility study for the bridge replacement 10 years ago led to plans repeatedly derailed by environmental and archaeological concerns. …

A water treatment plant on the Potomac River has also been part of the county’s long-term plans for coping with the increased costs of water purchased from Cumberland and Keyser. A treatment plant on the river near the U.S. Route 220 corridor is technically feasible, county officials have said. A plant would allow at least some of the costs to be controlled by giving the county its own water supply. …

County officials have said the plant would allow the county to serve Bowling Green, Cresaptown and other areas. …

Building the plant is expected to cost $9.9 million, and while building the plant is included in the capital budget, the expectation is that the county will pay for the project with loan and grant money. No timeline has been projected for possible construction.

American Rivers Urges Maryland Congressional Delegation to Oppose Federal Hydropower Bill Over Conowingo Concerns

In a June 23, 2015, op-ed in the Baltimore Sun, American Rivers President and CEO Bob Irvin urged Maryland’s federal legislators to oppose proposed legislation that would remove the ability of Maryland to exercise licensing and oversight authority over the Conowingo Dam, including for water quality violations.  In general, S. 1236 “The Hydropower Improvement Act of 2015″ would remove the ability of states to play a direct role in the relicensing of hydroelectric facilities before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).  The bill was introduced by Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski and heard by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on May 19.

In the op-ed, Irvin argued the importance of Maryland’s presence as part of the relicensing process and asked legislators to join with Maryland Governor Larry Hogan in opposition to the bill:

What’s at stake for Marylanders? Exelon Corporation is currently seeking a new 46-year license from FERC to operate the Conowingo Dam, located at the head of the bay near the Pennsylvania border. It needs Maryland to certify that the dam’s operations will not violate state water quality standards before FERC can grant the license. Right now, our state officials and natural resource agencies have the authority to negotiate for changes to the license that benefit Marylanders and the bay. …

Nearly 200 million tons of sediment are trapped behind Conowingo, and during big storms large quantities of this sediment are flushed into the bay. Maryland is pressing Exelon to agree to clean up the dam before the state will sign off on the new license. If Congress passes the proposed bill, Maryland’s authority disappears, and Exelon gets to pass the costs of dealing with the dam’s pollution along to taxpayers. …

Fortunately, the state of Maryland is fighting back. Gov. Larry Hogan and his administration understand the importance of the Conowingo Dam’s Water Quality Certification and are standing up for Maryland and for the Chesapeake Bay by opposing this damaging legislation. Maryland’s Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles and Secretary of Natural Resources Mark Belton recently sent letters to Congress pointing out that the legislation being considered would relegate states to “bystander or second-class status” with regard to protecting water quality. For defending Maryland’s right to protect our waters, Governor Hogan deserves our thanks.

Maryland’s congressional delegation should join with Governor Hogan in opposing this legislation. Rarely do our senators and members of Congress have to defend the bay from such a blatant attempt to roll back environmental protections. Fifty percent of the bay’s fresh water flows down the Susquehanna River and over the Conowingo Dam. The new federal license for Conowingo offers Maryland a once-in-a-lifetime chance to bring the dam into compliance with modern laws and standards for environmental protection. Maryland cannot afford to lose its authority to protect the Chesapeake Bay from Conowingo’s pollution.

The Clean Chesapeake Coalition also submitted comments in opposition to the legislation on June 17, 2015.

 

 

Articles Highlights the Costs of Recycling

An article in the Washington Post suggests that state and the country as a whole need to consider the costs of recycling and figure out a sustainable model going forward. As described in the article,

Once a profitable business for cities and private employers alike, recycling in recent years has become a money-sucking enterprise. The District, Baltimore and many counties in between are contributing millions annually to prop up one of the nation’s busiest facilities here in Elkridge, Md. — but it is still losing money. In fact, almost every facility like it in the country is running in the red. And Waste Management and other recyclers say that more than 2,000 municipalities are paying to dispose of their recyclables instead of the other way around.

The article looks at various factors in the recycling dynamic, including citizen behavior and attitudes towards recycling, the re-sale value of recycled goods, and the costs of recycling technologies. Each of these factors, it suggests, are part of the reason why local government costs are increasing and nationwide recycling rates are not.

For more information, see the full story in the Washington Post and our recent post, MACo Testifies Before Senate Committee on Beverage Deposit Legislation.