MDE Prepared To Deny Key Conowingo Permit

November 21, 2014

The Maryland Department of Environment has announced its intention to deny key permits to Exelon, the corporate owner of the Conowingo Dam at the northern head of the Chesapeake Bay. A January 7 hearing has been scheduled prior to a final decision.

From coverage in the Daily Record (limited free access):

Saying there’s not enough information on the dam’s impact on the Chesapeake Bay, the state Department of the Environment has declared its intent to deny Exelon certification that the hydroelectric facility on the lower Susquehanna River meets state and federal water quality standards.

The department issued a statement saying it has not made a final determination, and is seeking public comment, either in writing or at a Jan. 7 hearing.

The immediate effect of this potential denial is unclear, as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is also reviewing the potential re-licensing of the Dam facility for another 40 year period. From the Baltimore Sun coverage:

The state agency’s move has no imminent effect, as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has given Exelon a one-year extension of its current license to operate Conowingo, which produces 500 megawatts of electricity. The company had applied last January for state water-quality approval while it still was hoping to gain a long-term renewal of its license. Under federal law, Maryland must act on the application within a year or lose its say in relicensing the facility. That deadline falls on Jan. 31, 2015.

In seeking to renew its license, Exelon has been negotiating with federal and state officials over their concerns about the dam’s impact on water quality and on migration of shad and eels up the river. Details of those talks are not public.

But the company has agreed to pay up to $3.5 million for enhanced water-quality monitoring over the next two years.

Exelon can reapply for state approval, said MDE spokesman Jay Apperson. Officials anticipate that will happen once the additional study is finished, he said.

“We expect to continue this dialogue as we work together to assure the state standards on water quality are met,” said Exelon Generation spokesman Robert Judge.

If after further study, state regulators decide the dam is undermining water quality, Exelon could be required to mitigate the impacts, either by changing how it operates the facility or by making offsetting pollution reductions elsewhere in the river’s drainage area, according to Apperson.

For more of MACo’s coverage of this issue, see previous Conduit Street articles on the Conowingo Dam.


McIntosh, Barve Gain New Committee Chairs In House

November 20, 2014

Delegate Kumar Barve, courtesy of Maryland State Archives

Following shifts in the recent election, the House of Delegates leadership will undergo substantial changes — with Delegate Maggie McIntosh moving to serve as chair of the Appropriations Committee, and current Majority Leader Kumar Barve assuming the seat as chair of the newly-renamed Environment and Transportation Committee.

From coverage in the Washington Post:

Del. Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore) was tapped to become chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, succeeding Del. Norman H. Conway (D-Wicomico), who was defeated for reelection in his district this month.

McIntosh had served as chairwoman of the Environmental Matters Committee for the past 12 years. She will be replaced in that role when the House convenes in January by Del. Kumar Barve (D-Montgomery), currently the House majority leader and a 24-year veteran of the chamber.

When Barve takes over McIntosh’s committee, its jurisdiction will be expanded to include both environmental and transportation issues, Busch said.

Read the Post article online.

The Speaker also made several additional leadership announcements, as part of preparations for the 2015 legislative session. The full text of Speaker Michael Busch’s November 19 press release on new leadership positions follows:

Read the rest of this entry »


Rural Economies Workgroup Holds First Meeting, Discusses Goal and Objectives

November 19, 2014

The Rural Economies Workgroup of the Maryland Sustainable Growth Commission held it first meeting on November 18.  Greg Bowen, a Commission member representing Southern Maryland and former Calvert County Planning Director, is the chair of the Workgroup.  State representatives participating in the meeting included the Maryland Departments of Planning (MDP), Agriculture, Natural Resources, Business and Economic Development, and Health and Mental Hygiene.  Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp represented MACo.  Other represented stakeholder groups included the Maryland Rural Council, 1000 Friends of Maryland, the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, and Western Maryland.  MDP will be staffing the Workgroup.

The Workgroup discussed a draft goal, set of objectives, and possible strategies for achieving those objectives.  An initial set of four objectives included: (1) land preservation; (2) sustainable food supply system; (3) sustainable forestry; and (4) sustainable rural recreation.  However, it is likely that these objectives and related strategies will be modified and several additional objectives added as the Workgroup finalizes its work plan.  Knapp suggested that the Workgroup consider examining areas where Maryland’s current Smart Growth policy does not mesh well with rural development issues and consider potential “tweaks” to policy that better address rural needs.  Other potential objectives included preservation of natural open spaces and public education.

The Workgroup hopes to finalize its work plan by December. Recommendations from the Workgroup will be targeted at both the State and local governments and will likely include proposed regulatory and statutory changes.  For further information please contact Les Knapp at lknapp@mdcounties.org or 410.269.0043.

 


Phosphorus Rules Issued, May Take Effect January

November 18, 2014

A closely watched and controversial set of environmental regulations were officially submitted by the Maryland Department of Agriculture on November 12, and will be published in the December 1 Maryland Register. This starts the process of their adoption, which (by this specific timing) could occur before Governor O’Malley leaves office in January.

From coverage in the Daily Times online:

New regulations to limit farmers from polluting phosphorus into the Chesapeake Bay could be implemented before Gov. Martin O’Malley leaves office in January.

The proposed regulations outlined by the phosphorus management tool were submitted Friday for inclusion in the Dec. 1 Maryland Register and for legislative review. By submitting them Friday, the rules can be placed into effect by the Maryland Department of Agriculture before Gov.-elect Larry Hogan is sworn into office on Jan. 21.

The state legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review will have 45 days for review and comment, after which, the department can then implement the regulations.

Read the full Daily Times coverage online.

 


NACo Calls For “Waters of the US” Rule Withdrawal

November 18, 2014

In its most direct statement to date on the topic, the National Association of Counties (joined by several other stakeholder groups) has called for the US Environmental Protection Agency to withdraw and clarify its pending “Waters of the United States” rule, which would broaden the reach of many federal regulations. The NACo press release follows:

NACo urges feds to withdraw and clarify “Waters of the U.S.” proposal  
Local groups unite in urging revisions to proposal

WASHINGTON, D.C. – After voicing serious concerns and pushing for clarity on the federal proposal to redefine “Waters of the United States,” the National Association of Counties (NACo) on Nov. 14 called for the proposal’s withdrawal until further analysis has been completed.  NACo submitted its official comments to the Federal Registry summarizing more than a dozen areas of concern important to the nation’s counties.

“NACo supports common-sense environmental protection; but expanded federal oversight and more ambiguity would create delays in critical work, draining local budgets without any environmental benefit,” NACo Executive Director Matthew D. Chase said.  “We urge the EPA and the Corps to withdraw and modify this proposal.  We should work together to create a rule that achieves a common goal: to protect America’s water resources for generations to come.”

In a 19-page letter, NACo emphasized the importance of the local, state and federal partnership in crafting practical rules to ensure clean water without impeding counties’ fundamental infrastructure and public safety functions.  Counties are responsible for the construction and maintenance of roads, bridges, water quality systems and other infrastructure like roadside ditches, stormwater systems, green infrastructure and drinking water facilities.

“Clean water is essential to all of our nation’s counties, who are on the front lines of … preserving local resources and maintaining public safety,” Chase wrote.  He echoed the need “for a clear, concise and workable definition for ‘Waters of the U.S.’ to reduce confusion — not to mention costs — within the federal permitting process.  … This proposed rule falls short of that goal.”

While acknowledging recent dialogue with the EPA and the Corps, NACo remains deeply concerned about the far-reaching effects and unintended consequences of the proposed rule.

Among many issues, the letter described a flawed consultation process; an incomplete analysis of economic impacts; ongoing delays with the current permitting process; and inconsistent definitions implemented in different regions and by different federal agencies.  NACo’s comments included a series of recommendations to address these concerns.

In addition to submitting its own comments, NACo, along with six other associations representing local governments and agencies, jointly submitted comments to the Federal Registry.  The groups called for key adjustments and an additional review period to be certain that concerns are adequately addressed.

“The health, well-being and safety of our citizens and communities are top priorities for us,” the groups wrote.  “As partners in protecting America’s water resources, it is essential that state and local governments have a clear understanding of the vast impact that a change to the definition of

‘Waters of the U.S.’ will have on all aspects of the Clean Water Act.”

 

The joint letter stressed the need for greater collaboration with local and state governments and stated the proposed rule “would create more confusion, not less, for local governments and ultimately for agency field staff responsible for making jurisdictional determinations,” they wrote.

“If an additional comment period is not granted, we respectfully call for the withdrawal of this proposed rule and ask the agencies to resubmit a proposed rule at a later date that addresses our concerns.”

The joint comments were submitted by:

  • American Public Works Association
  • National Association of Counties
  • National Association of County Engineers
  • National Association of Flood & Stormwater Management Agencies
  • National Association of Regional Councils
  • National League of Cities, and
  • U. S. Conference of Mayors.

Since the proposal was unveiled in April, NACo has advocated for greater clarity and strongly encouraged counties to submit their comments.  The association launched an online resource hub and action center and released a video urging counties to take action.

Hundreds of counties have passed resolutions and submitted comments.  In total, more than 12,000 unique public comments have been submitted.

For more information, visit www.naco.org/WOUS.


Photo Article Explores Threat of Sea Level Rise to Coastal Communities

November 14, 2014

In a November 12 Baltimore Sun photo-article presented a pictorial view of the threat posed by sea level rise to Maryland and northeastern United States coastal areas.

More than 300 counties claim a piece of more than 86,000 miles of tidal coastline in the United States, yet no clear national policy determines which locations receive help to protect their shorelines. That has left communities fighting for attention and resources, lest they be abandoned to the sea, as is playing out in Chincoteague.

“If we can’t make a decision about rising sea level in a parking lot, we’re in trouble as a nation,” said Louis Hinds, former manager of Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.

Tidal waters worldwide have climbed an average of 8 inches over the past century, according to the 2014 National Climate Assessment. The two main causes are the volume of water added to oceans from glacial melt and the expansion of that water from rising sea temperatures.

Sea level rise will be among the topics being discussed at MACo’s January 2015 Winter Conference at the session Treacherous Shoals: Navigating the Murky Depths of Water Issues.

Learn more about MACo’s Winter Conference:

Questions? Contact Meetings & Events Director Virginia White.

 

 


Conowingo Dam Report Stokes Debate

November 14, 2014

A newly released report on the Chesapeake bay cleanup, seen by many as cooling momentum toward large-scale efforts to dredge the Susquehanna River behind the Conowingo Dam, has sparked controversy in this longstanding policy debate.

Background from the report’s source:

The Lower Susquehanna River Watershed Assessment (LSRWA) team, formed in 2011, has spent two years evaluating these sediment and nutrient issues. Its draft report, released November 13, 2014, includes comprehensive evaluation of the issues, findings and recommendations for management actions in the future to address the flow of pollutants downstream.

A public comment period on the draft LSRWA report is now open until Jan. 9, 2015.

Interested parties can submit comments via:

E-mail to LSRWAcomments@usace.army.mil

Letter postmarked by Jan 9, 2015, to: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District, Attn: Anna Compton , P.O. Box 1715, Baltimore, MD 21203.

A public meeting and webinar will be held December 9th at Harford Community College in Bel Air, Md., from 7 – 9 p.m. Details on the public meeting and log-in information for the webinar will be posted on the website, as well as other meeting materials. Once the comment period closes, the LSRWA team will address comments and publish the final report (anticipated for summer 2015) to better inform stakeholders undertaking efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay.

For more information, visit the LSRWA webpage.

Review the draft report online.

The report’s release has been met with differing reactions from stakeholders. From coverage in the Capital Gazette:

“This new report shows that Conowingo Dam is not quite the bogeyman it has been made out to be for the bay,” said John Seebach, a senior director for American Rivers.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Maryland Executive Director Alison Prost called on upstream state New York, Pennsylvania and all the other bay states to implement the Chesapeake Bay blueprint. “Local pollution is the major problem for the bay,” she said. “Local clean-up efforts are necessary to save it.”

Some, like the Clean Chesapeake Coalition, differ.

“The study acknowledges the reservoirs have been trapping pollution and admits they are all full,” said Charles MacLeod, the attorney for the Coalition, which has urged dredging as an alternative or supplement to the bay cleanup plan. “Is this the new normal? The trapping capacity is gone … but dredging is not good for the bay because it will just fill in again?”

He said the report’s conclusions are almost “too convenient. The draft is saying, ‘Nice try. The (Conowingo sediment) is not that big a deal. Now get back to the WIPs.” The WIPs are each jurisdiction’s watershed cleanup plan.

Read the full Capital Gazette article online.


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