Environmental Matters Committee Holds AFG Briefing

The House Environmental Matters Committee held a briefing on forthcoming Accounting for Growth (AFG) regulations from the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) on September 17.  The regulations will require that water pollution generated by new development be offset in order to keep Maryland compliant under the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL).  The offsets can be accomplished through on-site or off-site mitigation, paying a fee-in-lieu, or nutrient credit trading.  Click here for further background and prior Conduit Street coverage of the AFG Policy.

The primary presenter at the briefing was MDE Deputy Secretary for Policy and Planning David Costello.  He briefly outlined the process used by a stakeholders workgroup that has been meeting for most of this year to reach areas of consensus on the regulations.  He noted that the workgroup “hammered through a range of issues” to reach consensus on close to 50 of the approximately 60 issues.  He also noted that he felt stakeholders were close to reaching an agreement on the baseline allocation issue (how much water pollution will a developer have to offset that was already existing on the land prior to the land’s development or redevelopment).  (The baseline allocation issue is a critical outstanding issue for MACo.)

The Deputy Secretary noted the following costs for offsetting a pound of nitrogen based on the generating source (called “sectors” under the TMDL):  $3,800 for stormwater, $3,200 for septic  systems, $400 for wastewater treatment plants, and $200 for agriculture.  He stated that there has been conversation about cross-sector nutrient credit trading to help mitigate the cost for septic systems and stormwater.

He noted that there was general agreement that for the fee-in-lieu, a local government would have a right of first refusal to accept the fee (and thus be responsible for creating offsets).  If a local government declined, the fee would go into the Bay Restoration Fund and the state would be responsible for creating an offset.

The Deputy Secretary also predicted that the AFG Policy will only significantly impact about 10% of annual development (several thousand units).

Representatives from MACo, the Maryland Municipal League, the homebuilders, the commercial builders, and Chesapeake Bay Commission, and the agricultural community also made brief comments.

During the question and answer session, Delegate Tony O’Donnell expressed concern that residents and constituents had not been prepared or educated about the proposed AFG policy.  He also expressed frustration about what appeared to him to be a lack of opposition to the proposal.  Deputy Secretary Costello responded by note that there was “considerable disagreement” in many of the meetings.

The Delegate also asked where the 10% of development that was anticipated to be most impacted by the AFG regulations was located.  The Deputy Secretary answered that the 10% included any development on forestland, on a wastewater treatment plant with no capacity, or on septic system.

Delegate Anne Healey asked if public works projects were included under the AFG requirements and the Deputy Secretary indicated that both state and local public works projects would be subject to the AFG offset requirements.

Committee Chair Maggie McIntosh ended the briefing by commenting that the State should look into potential funding sources to help upgrade major/minor wastewater treatment plants to help smaller jurisdictions and rural areas.

For further information about the briefing or the proposed AFG Policy, please contact Les Knapp at 410.269.0043 or lknapp@mdcounties.org.