This post summarizes the status of various environment bills that MACo either considered or took a position on.
“Zero Waste” Legislation: HB 1266 / SB 799 would require counties to adopt a “zero waste” policy for municipal solid waste by creating new recycling and waste diversion requirements for county governments and imposing financial penalties on those counties who cannot comply. While noting that MACo was not inherently opposed to a zero waste system, MACo opposed the bill based on the bill’s specific policy and cost implications. In its testimony, MACo identified nine key areas that would need to be addressed before a zero waste policy should be implemented in the State.
FINAL STATUS: HB 1266 was heard by the House Economic Matters Committee but the Committee took no action. The Senate Finance Committee created a workgroup that amended SB 799 into a task force that would study and make recommendations on the zero waste issue, including the areas of concern raised by MACo. MACo dropped its opposition to the amended bill. SB 799 passed the Senate as amended but the House took no action on the bill.
Stormwater Management Fees: As introduced, HB 508 would subject property owned by the State to a stormwater fee levied by a county or a municipality, subject to certain restrictions. Property owned by the Maryland Department of Transportation, including roads, and the University System of Maryland would be exempt from the charges. MACo supported the bill with amendments worked out by the State and other stakeholders that would require State properties not subject to either a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Phase I municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) permit or industrial stormwater permit to pay a stormwater fee charged by one of the 10 counties required to charge the fee under HB 987 of 2012. State properties subject to an NPDES MS4 permit or industrial stormwater permit could still be subject to a local fee if the State and county mutually agree.
FINAL STATUS: The House passed HB 508 with the amendments supported by MACo. However, the bill was ultimately amended in the Senate that deleted the new House language and instead prohibited counties that had not adopted a fee before January 1, 2013 from assessing the fee before July 1, 2015. The amendments also required local governments to provide public notice of the schedule of fees by July 1, 2014 and created a workgroup to study whether the fees should apply to State and local government property. The amended bill passed the Senate but did not make it back over to the House before the end of Session.
No Net Loss of Forestry: As introduced, HB 706 is a bill sponsored by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) that would make numerous changes to the laws pertaining to State and private forestlands, including setting a statewide 40% tree canopy cover goal. The bill would benefit local governments by clarifying how the Forest Conservation Act applies to the maintenance and retrofitting of stormwater management structures and certain stream restoration projects, expanding the use of the Reforestation Fund, and increasing flexibility for local forest conservation programs. The bill also contained a provision allowing DNR to require a local conservation program to submit payment to the State Conservation Fund for the amount of any misappropriated local conservation funds. MACo supported the bill with an amendment that would only allow DNR to exercise that ability after a finding by an auditor in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General.
FINAL STATUS: The General Assembly passed HB 706 with MACo’s proposed amendment and other amendments clarifying that the bill’s provisions affect agricultural land.
Water Pollution Control Penalties: HB 799 / SB 289 would increase from $5,000 to $10,000 the daily administrative fine that the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) may charge for water pollution penalties, including sewage overflow violations. MACo opposed the bill based on longstanding opposition to the imposition of administrative penalties by one level of government against another, noting that monetary penalties against local governments are borne by citizens through increased taxes or decreased services.
As introduced, SB 302 would also double the daily administrative fine that MDE may charge for water pollution penalties. The bill would also double the cap on total administrative fines that MDE may charge for any single violation and require MDE to publish annually on its website the total amount of sewage overflow in gallons for the previous year and the fines collected as a result of the overflows. MACo opposed the bill because of the penalty provisions but noted that it did not have an issue with the reporting requirement.
FINAL STATUS: HB 799 was given an unfavorable report in the House. SB 289 was voted out by the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee but the Committee later recommitted the bill back to the Committee. SB 302 passed the General Assembly but was amended so that only the reporting requirement remained.