MACo President and Howard County Executive Ken Ulman was the keynote speaker at the 17th Annual Environmental Legislative Summit on January 25. The Summit is sponsored by a consortium of environmental groups and introduces the environmental community’s legislative agenda for the current Session. In addition, key elected and appointed officials are invited to offer their opinions on key environmental issues. This event marked the first time a MACo President had been invited to speak.
The Summit, which has grown in popularity and importance over the years, was attended by hundreds of people. Chesapeake Bay Foundation President Will Baker introduced the County Executive and urged the assembled crowd to “reject [the philosophy] of ‘no’ and embrace ‘yes’.” County Executive Ulman thanked the audience for “filling this room” and stated, “You have a friend in me as the President of MACo.” Stressing that he believed in the importance of establishing “a culture of sustainability,” the County Executive highlighted many of the environmental actions undertaken by Howard County during his tenure, including:
- reduction of energy use/carbon footprint;
- use of LED traffic lights;
- creation of a county hybrid car fleet and use of hybrid buses;
- creation of electric vehicle charging stations at two county facilities;
- use of induction-charged buses (buses are charged overnight on an electromagnet);
- tax credits for use of solar and geothermal systems;
- tax credits for all new buildings that are LEED certified;
- increasing recycling with a commensurate 20% reduction in trash;
- distribution of free composting kits;
- consideration of curbside pickup of food waste;
- nearly $100 million to fund Howard County wastewater treatment plant upgrades to enhanced nitrogen removal (ENR) ($35 million from the Bay Restoration Fund and $ 60 million from the County); and
- creation of Green Central Station, a one-stop County website for environmental issues and concerns.
County Executive Ulman also pledged that MACo would work more closely with the environmental community and noted, “We have got to solve our challenges together.”
House Environmental Matters Committee Chair Maggie McIntosh predicted the next four years would see the State tackling major environmental and land use challenges and could be very contentious. “The rubber is hitting the road for Smart Growth,” she argued, noting the need for stronger restrictions on how much development can take place on septic systems as opposed to water and sewer. “We need to put teeth in Smart Growth and start diverting growth in a fundamental way,” she concluded. Besides Smart Growth and septic systems, Delegate McIntosh noted several other issues that will likely appear as legislation sometime during this term: increasing the Bay Restoration Fee, creation of a mandatory local stormwater utility fee, regulation of natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale deposit, and stronger penalties for oyster poaching.
Acting Maryland Secretary of the Environment Bob Summers discussed three key priorities for his Department: (1) creation and implementation of the Phase II Watershed Implementation Plans; (2) increased energy conservation and use of renewable energy; and (3) greater emphasis on Smart Growth, which he believed “ties everything together.” House Majority Leader Kumar Barve also spoke, stressing that “in Annapolis teamwork is what passes bills.”
Finally, the environmental community discussed their three main environmental priorities for this Session: (1) creation of an offshore wind farm and requirements that power companies enter into long-term contracts to purchase offshore wind energy; (2) protection of environmental programs in the State budget; and (3) funding of stormwater utilities through a mandatory local stormwater utility fee.