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Wicomico Council to Review Animal Ordinances

The Wicomico County Council has agreed to review changes to the county’s animal ordinance proposed by the director of the local Humane Society and member of the county’s Animal Ordinance Committee. The recommendations are being proposed in an effort to improve animal rights and welfare.

As reported on Delmarva Now:

Aaron Balsamo, director of the Humane Society of Wicomico County, and members of the Animal Ordinance Committee presented the proposed revisions at Tuesday morning’s council meeting, saying the changes are needed.

“Some of our laws are very antiquated,” Balsamo said.

In March, Balsamo said in an email to county staff that areas he wants to see addressed by the committee are shelters, proper tethering of dogs and a prohibition of dogs left outside in extreme weather conditions.

The proposed changes follow the discovery last year of 310 dogs living in deplorable conditions at an Eden property.

The county’s Animal Ordinance Committee was first formed in 2007 after a Willards teenager was attacked by two dogs while riding his bike on New Hope Road. Jarritt Sybert, 14, received 40 puncture marks on his body from a pit bull mix and a German shepherd mix, according to a news report at the time.

From 2007 to 2008, the committee’s focus was on how to protect the public from dangerous dogs, but now it has shifted to how to protect animals.

For more information visit Delmarva Now.

Study Analyzes Usage and Disposal of Plastics

A Science Advances research article (2017-07-19) analyzed the global production, use, and final destination of plastics. The research article estimated that 8300 million metric tons (Mt) of primary or virgin plastic have been produced from the start of mass plastic productions post-World War II through 2015. Based on their data, the researchers estimate that 12,000 Mt of plastics will be in landfills or the natural environment by 2050. From the research article:

A world without plastics, or synthetic organic polymers, seems unimaginable today, yet their large-scale production and use only dates back to ~1950. Although the first synthetic plastics, such as Bakelite, appeared in the early 20th century, widespread use of plastics outside of the military did not occur until after World War II. The ensuing rapid growth in plastics production is extraordinary, surpassing most other man-made materials. Notable exceptions are materials that are used extensively in the construction sector, such as steel and cement.

Instead, plastics’ largest market is packaging, an application whose growth was accelerated by a global shift from reusable to single-use containers. As a result, the share of plastics in municipal solid waste (by mass) increased from less than 1% in 1960 to more than 10% by 2005 in middle- and high-income countries. At the same time, global solid waste generation, which is strongly correlated with gross national income per capita, has grown steadily over the past five decades. …

We estimate that 2500 Mt of plastics—or 30% of all plastics ever produced—are currently in use. Between 1950 and 2015, cumulative waste generation of primary and secondary (recycled) plastic waste amounted to 6300 Mt. Of this, approximately 800 Mt (12%) of plastics have been incinerated and 600 Mt (9%) have been recycled, only 10% of which have been recycled more than once. Around 4900 Mt—60% of all plastics ever produced—were discarded and are accumulating in landfills or in the natural environment….None of the mass-produced plastics biodegrade in any meaningful way; however, sunlight weakens the materials, causing fragmentation into particles known to reach millimeters or micrometers in size. Research into the environmental impacts of these “microplastics” in marine and freshwater environments has accelerated in recent years, but little is known about the impacts of plastic waste in land-based ecosystems.

The growth of plastics production in the past 65 years has substantially outpaced any other manufactured material. The same properties that make plastics so versatile in innumerable applications—durability and resistance to degradation—make these materials difficult or impossible for nature to assimilate. Thus, without a well-designed and tailor-made management strategy for end-of-life plastics, humans are conducting a singular uncontrolled experiment on a global scale, in which billions of metric tons of material will accumulate across all major terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems on the planet. The relative advantages and disadvantages of dematerialization, substitution, reuse, material recycling, waste-to-energy, and conversion technologies must be carefully considered to design the best solutions to the environmental challenges posed by the enormous and sustained global growth in plastics production and use. [Citations Omitted].

Source: Production, Use, and Fate of All Plastics Ever Made, Science Advances, Vol. 3, no. 7, e1700782 (July 19, 2017).

 A New York Times article (2017-07-19) offered further details on the study:

Roland Geyer, the lead author of the study, said, “My mantra is that you can’t manage what you don’t measure, and without good numbers, you don’t know if we have a real problem.”

The authors, who come from the University of California, Santa Barbara, the University of Georgia and the Sea Education Association in Woods Hole, Mass., used plastic production data from a variety of sources to make their estimates. …

Dr. Geyer cautioned that recycling was not a cure-all for global plastic pollution. He said the sole benefit of recycling was to reduce the amount of new plastic being produced, adding, “We don’t understand very well the extent to which recycling reduces primary production.”

The features that have made plastic so important in the global market are the same ones that make it such a pervasive pollutant: durability and resistance to degradation.

Dr. Geyer said there was not enough information on what the long-term consequences of all this plastic and its disposal would be. “It accumulates so quickly now and it doesn’t biodegrade, so it just gets added to what’s already there.”

“Once we start looking, I think we’ll find all sorts of unintended consequences,” he added. “I’d be very surprised to find out that it is a purely aesthetic problem.”

Prince George’s Council Unanimously Passes Healthy Vending Machines Bill

The Prince George’s County Council unanimously passed a bill, sponsored by vice-chair Dannielle Glaros, that sets certain health related requirements on food and drink offerings within vending machines on county government property.

The Washington Post reports:

If signed by County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), the measure would take effect 45 days later.

Prince George’s would be the fourth jurisdiction in Maryland to adopt measures mandating contracted companies to stock vending machines on government property with packaged food and drink choices that are low in fat, sodium and sugar.

Baltimore City, Howard and Montgomery counties have all implemented healthy vending policies in the last two years. The Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission adopted a separate but similar policy in April for all the recreational and park facilities in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

The Prince George’s law requires that at least half the offerings in any vending machine meet healthy nutritional standards. Granola bars, trail mix and baked chips must be less than 200 calories per package and meet the federal “low-sodium” definition. Water, milk and juice must contain fewer than 40 calories per serving and real fruits or vegetables.

All of those products should cost as much or less than junk food, soda and candy that are sold from the machines, and must be arranged within the machine in places with the highest selling potential.

The article notes that the bill awaits the signature of County Executive Rushern Baker who has not formally taken a position on the measure. If signed the bill would go into effect after 45 days.

Read The Washington Post to learn more.

Hogan Administration Plans to Sue EPA Over Air Pollution From Other States

An Associated Press article (2017-07-20) reported that Maryland Governor Lawrence “Larry” Hogan has announced plans to sue the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the federal Clean Air Act over air pollution generated by power plants in neighboring states. As previously reported on Conduit Street, Hogan had requested that the EPA require certain coal plants in mid-western states to use pollution-control technology during the months of May through September. The Maryland Department of the Environment has estimated that nearly 70 percent of Maryland’s air pollution comes from “upwind” sources located outside of the state. From the article:

Ben Grumbles, secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment, notified the agency of the state’s plans in a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

“We need the EPA to step in to ensure that these power plants run their pollution controls on a daily basis,” Grumbles said in an interview. “We’re in discussions with the states. We need EPA to step in and help. We have the data, and it’s clear, and the pollution is coming from these power plants.”

Maryland petitioned the EPA in November for a finding that 36 power plant units in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia are emitting air pollution affecting the state’s air quality in violation of the law known as the “good neighbor provision.” In January, the EPA issued a six-month extension to act, setting a July 15 deadline that has expired without required EPA action.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a conservation group, indicated it also planned to sue the EPA over the issue. The foundation noted that the state had forecast a Code Red Air Quality Alert on Thursday for Baltimore.

“We join and wholeheartedly support Maryland in its effort to protect the health of its residents and the Chesapeake Bay against upwind, out-of-state power plants which choose to make higher profits rather than turn on their pollution controls during hot summer months,” said Jon Mueller, vice president of litigation at the foundation.

Useful Links

Prior Conduit Street Article on Hogan’s EPA Request

Virginia White to Lead MACo’s Member Services Efforts

Virginia White, part of MACo’s professional staff since 2010, will now lead MACo’s full range of education, service, and cost-saving functions as Member Services Director. In her leadership role, Virginia will help develop the Association’s branding, communications, events, and partnership programs to be of the highest value to our member counties. She will remain the lead coordinator of the conference events, and will have an active role with MACo’s many connections back to county government successes.

Prior to working with MACo, Virginia was the Director of Training & Special Events with the Maryland Association of Resources for Families & Youth (MARFY). Virginia graduated magna cum laude from Washington College in Kent County, Maryland, with a bachelor’s degree in art and computer science, and spent a semester studying at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. Virginia graduated summa cum laude from Maurice J. McDonough High School in Charles County.

Bike Path Connects Counties From Maine To Florida

A 3,000 bike path connecting Maine, through Maryland to Key West, takes the title of

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Courtesy Eastern Greenway Alliance

“most ambitious infrastructure project in the US,” according to news outlet Quartz. The East Coast Greenway Alliance, the nonprofit partnering with numerous local governments on the project, thinks it will take a total of 50 years to complete.

It includes 175 miles through Maryland, entering through Newark, Delaware, through Cecil, Harford, Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Queen Anne’s, and Prince George’s counties and Baltimore City, before going to D.C.

 

From Quartz:

That path, once complete, will connect Calais, Maine to Key West, Florida, which Dennis Markatos-Soriano, executive director of the East Coast Greenway Alliance, the nonprofit running the project, calls “the moose to the manatee.” Cyclists can manage to ride between those two points now. The beauty of the Eastern Greenway is that it will be largely separated from cars. It costs about $1 million a mile to build, the organization says, and the pavement can support touring bikes.

Construction is a third of the way to its goal, but all of the stretches are not yet connected. The organization admits the project is slow-going. It took 25 years to get to this point. The alliance has given itself another 25 years for the entire path to be completed, and 13 for the next 1,000 miles. The project is funded by private donors, and local and state governments, which are in charge of constructing the path in their areas.

The project last year added 42 miles of trails to the network, paths that are dotted with historical sites, such as the the six miles through South Carolina’s Spanish Moss Trail, the site of a now-defunct rail line that opened in 1870.

Courtesy Eastern Greenway Alliance

Congressional Amendment May Imperil Maryland Offshore Wind Project

A proposal that was approved by a U.S. House committee calls for Maryland’s two offshore wind projects to inch farther away from the coast, a move one of the developers said would jeopardize the entire effort.

The Appropriations Committee on Tuesday approved a measure, sponsored by Rep. Andy Harris, the Republican whose district includes the Eastern Shore, that requires the towering turbines to be located at least 24 miles from shore.

According to Delmarvanow,

The legislation comes after Ocean City officials protested that views of the turbines from its beaches and coastal condominiums would spoil the resort’s tourism industry.

“This will make it so when you go to Ocean City, Maryland, you don’t have red blinking lights on the horizon,” Harris told the committee. He cited a North Carolina State University survey in which 54 percent of respondents said they would be unwilling to stay wherever turbines are visible.

The Harris amendment bars federal funding from being spent on government reviews of wind projects built within 24 miles of Maryland’s shoreline. Any construction that takes place farther out to sea would be unaffected.

Harris said the measure would delay, not kill, the projects. The congressman pointed to a project off Virginia Beach that is going up 27 miles off the coast.

But one of the developers in Maryland promptly disagreed with that assessment.

Since its lease area is shaped like a triangle, U.S. Wind Inc. would be left with only enough room for one turbine, said Paul Rich, the company’s director for project development, in an interview.

“This is not helpful,” Rich said. “This stops a process before it’s even begun. It’s totally at odds with his constituency.”

U.S. Wind, Inc. has received enough renewable energy credits to build 62 turbines, which would rise 17 miles offshore. The company, a subsidiary of the Italian constructing firm Toto Holdings SpA, had moved the site back from 12 miles in response to Ocean City’s concerns.

Meanwhile, Skipjack Offshore Energy LLC is looking to construct 15 turbines in an area 17-21 miles off the coast at a cost of $720 million.

A representative of the Rhode Island-based Deepwater Wind Holdings LLC firm couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.

The amendment drew a rebuke from unlikely allies: manufacturing businesses and environmentalists.

Together, the projects are expected to generate more than $1.8 billion of in-state spending as well as 9,700 new direct and indirect jobs, the Maryland Public Service Commission estimates. The amendment imperils that potential economic boost, said Mike Dunn, president and CEO of the Greater Salisbury Committee.

“We think there are enormous economic development and job opportunities for the Lower Shore via the offshore wind,” Dunn said.

For her part, Anne Havemann, general counsel for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said she was “very frustrated” by the amendment. The legislation “tries to circumvent” six years of public hearings and government reviews that have gone into the effort, she said.

Individually, the projects are larger than the only offshore U.S. wind farm currently in operation: a five-turbine facility off Rhode Island, also developed by Deepwater.

U.S. Wind plans to construct future phases at the Maryland offshore site, raising the number of turbines to up to 187. That would produce enough power for more than 500,000 homes, the company said.

Read the full article for more information.

Everything You Need to Know About the New Open Meetings Act Requirements

During the 2017 Session, the Maryland General Assembly passed and Governor Larry Hogan signed into law new Open Meetings Act training requirements for public bodies (HB 880 / SB 450). Public bodies have until October 1, 2017, to comply with the new training requirements. Here are the five things you need to know to be in compliance:

(1) At least one member of each public body must take a training class on the Open Meetings Act. Under current law, each public body must designate at least one individual who is an employee, officer, or member to take the training class. While employees or staff can continue to take the training class, after October 1, 2017, at least one member of the public body must be also designated to take the class. The designated member has 90 days after the designation to take the class.

(2) Training classes can be taken through four different designated sources. The law identifies four designated sources where the training may be taken: (1) an online class offered by the Office of Attorney General and the University of Maryland’s Institute for Governmental Service and Research; (2) a class offered by MACo at its annual conferences through the Academy for Excellence in Local Governance; (3) a class offered by the Maryland Municipal League (MML) at its annual conferences through the Academy for Excellence in Local Governance; and (4) a class offered by the Maryland Association of Boards of Education (MABE) through the Boardmanship Academy Program. If a designated member had previously taken the training from one of the listed sources on or after October 1, 2013, the member DOES NOT have to take the training again. However, if a designated member had previously taken the training before October 1, 2013, the member must retake the training from one of the listed sources.

(3) Public bodies that have not designated a member to take a class may not meet in closed session after October 1, 2017. If a public body has not designated a member to take the class by October 1, 2017, the public body loses the ability to go into closed session. The member only needs to be designated by October 1 and may take the class at a later date as long as it falls within the 90 days after being designated.

(4) When going into closed session, a public body must either: (1) have a least one member designated to take the training class present; or (2) follow and complete the Compliance Checklist for Meetings Subject to the Open Meetings Act. After October 1, 2017, a public body can only enter closed session if it meets one of two requirements – either at least one member who has been designated to take the training class is present or the public body follows and completes the Compliance Checklist for Meetings Subject to the Open Meetings Act developed by the Office of the Attorney General. If the checklist option is used, the checklist must be included in the public body’s meeting minutes.

(5) Public bodies under the Maryland Judiciary are exempt from the training and closed session meeting requirements. Due to the unique nature of public bodies under the Maryland Judiciary, the new training requirements do not apply to public bodies that are: (1) under the judicial branch of State government; or (2) subject to governance by rules adopted by the Court of Appeals.

MACo will be offering its next Open Meetings training at its 2017 Summer Conference on August 16 from 3:30 PM – 5:00 PM in Ocean City, MD. Read more about it on page 7 of the registration brochure.

MACo and MML are offering an Open Meetings course through the Academy for Excellence in Local Governance on September 12 from 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM in Gaithersburg, MD. More information here.

If you have any questions regarding the new Open Meetings Act requirements, please contact MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp at 410.269.0043 or lknapp@mdcounties.org.

Useful Links

HB 880 of 2017

SB 450 of 2017

Online Class for Maryland’s Open Meetings Act

Compliance Checklist for Meetings Subject to the Open Meetings Act

MACo 2017 Summer Conference Attendee Registration Brochure

MACo 2017 Summer Conference Attendee Online Registration

September 12 MML/MACo Open Meetings Training Information

Purple Line Back On Track

Finally, the Purple Line gets some forward movement. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reinstated the project’s Record of Decision yesterday, overturning U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon’s prior revocation and allowing the project to move forward while litigation ensues. The Record of Decision is an environmental approval necessary for the state and federal government to enter into a Full Funding Grant Agreement, authorizing $900 in federal transportation funds for the project. The litigation has postponed execution of the funding agreement for nearly a year.

Of course, the U.S. Department of Transportation could still opt to hold off on executing the agreement until litigation concludes. Reports The Washington Post

A key issue remains, however: whether the U.S. Department of Transportation will consider the ruling to provide enough legal certainty to sign a multiyear funding agreement with the state for nearly $1 billion in federal aid. The Trump administration has proposed ending federal grants for new transit construction but has said in budget documents that it’s still considering the Purple Line for federal funding.

The Federal Transit Administration referred inquiries Wednesday to the Justice Department. A Justice Department spokesman said lawyers were still reviewing the court order.

Until Wednesday’s ruling, Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn had said the Purple Line was at risk of being canceled because the state was quickly running out of money to continue pre-construction work without the federal reimbursement. Congress has appropriated $325 million to the Purple Line, but the state can’t access that money until a full funding agreement is signed.

“Today’s ruling is good news,” Rahn said. “We will be working with USDOT to move a Full Funding Grant Agreement forward.”

According to Twitter, state and local officials are pleased.

Prior Conduit Street coverage on the Purple Line

 

How Tax Reform Would Hinder Muni Bonds

A federal border adjustment tax (BAT) would negatively affect counties’ cash flow by causing downturns in the municipal bond market, reports Ian Adams, Associate Vice President of the R Street Institute for Governing. It would also impact many states’ tax revenues from the insurance industry and potentially increase costs to local governments to provide social services.

A BAT will likely serve as a central component of congressional tax reform proposals – at least of the plan coming from House Republicans. BATs tax imports but not exports, favoring domestic production and supply, and raising costs of international capital. Insurance companies depend upon international capital as a means of diversification, “to keep insurance prices down and policy coverage broad.”

So what does this have to do with counties?

U.S. life insurers invest about 75 percent of every new premium dollar in fixed-income debt markets, and often are the only buyers for some kinds of bonds, particularly long-term debt. In fact, municipal bonds are among insurers’ most significant long-term investments: Property and casualty insurers held $326.8 billion in municipal bonds at the end of 2012, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, while life insurers tripled their muni holdings from $47.1 billion in 2008 to $131.2 billion in 2012.

By driving down insurers’ bond investments, a BAT would harm the ability of state and municipal governments to borrow long-term. ….

[A] BAT would further stretch limited state and local resources because it would push financial-planning products such as insurance beyond the reach of many of those teetering on the brink of public assistance. While the federal government might be called upon to support some of those needs, most of that extra load would need to be carried by state and local authorities.

A BAT could also reduce the flow of revenues from gross premium taxes paid by insurers to states.

Read the full article here.

For an interesting 20 minutes on BATs, listen to the Tax Policy Center’s new podcast, Taxology.