2014 End of Session Wrap Up: Environment

This post summarizes the status of various environment bills that MACo took a position on for the 2014 Regular Session.

Bay Restoration Fund – Wastewater Treatment Plant Connections for Failing Septic Systems Outside of Priority Funding Areas: HB 11 is a departmental bill by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) and a MACo 2014 Legislative Initiative. The bill would allow Bay Restoration Fund (BRF) monies to be used to connect failing septic systems outside of a Priority Funding Area (PFA) to a wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) with capacity. (Current law allows such connections inside of a PFA only). An eligible area must be designated as a” public health area of concern” and receive State approval after going through a Smart Growth exception review process.

MACo supported the bill with amendments to clarify when a public health area of concern must be added to a county’s water and sewer plan and expanded eligible WWTPs both inside and outside of a PFA to include plants using biological nutrient removal.

FINAL STATUS: The House amended HB 11 to include the MACo amendments and the following additional provisions: (1) the funding agreement for a project must include provisions to ensure: (i) denial of access for any future connections that are not included in the project’s proposed service area and (ii) that the project will not unduly impede access to funding for upgrading individual septic systems to Best Available Nitrogen Removal Technology (BAT); (2) MDE must adopt regulations establishing review and public notice procedures; (3) grandfathering criteria for a longstanding proposed project in Queen Anne’s County; and (4) MDE must submit an annual report to the General Assembly. The Senate further amended the bill to require an additional public hearing and approval step for the Queen Anne’s County project and made a technical correction. MACo supported both the House and Senate amendments and the General Assembly passed the bill as amended.

MACo HB 11 Testimony

Bay Restoration Fund – Use of Funds for Best Available Nitrogen Removal Technology Septic System Enforcement: HB 12 is a departmental bill by the MDE that would allow county governments or other entities delegated by MDE to administer and enforce BAT septic system regulations to use a portion of the BRF septic system account monies to offset the administration and enforcement costs. No more than 10% of the total funds deposited in the septic system account can be used for such purposes.

MACo supported the bill as it would alleviate some of the fiscal costs placed on counties delegated by MDE to implement and oversee the BAT septic system regulations.

FINAL STATUS: HB 12 passed the General Assembly.

MACo HB 12 Testimony

Recycling – Zero Waste Task Force: HB 240 / SB 56 would create a Task Force a Maryland Recycling and Landfill Diversion Task Force to study recycling and waste diversion issues over the 2014 Interim. Some of the Task Force’s primary duties would include: (1) determining the viability of percentage recycling and landfill disposal goals for county governments; (2) evaluating how the goals could be incorporated into county recycling plans; and (3) identifying appropriate incentives and penalties, including the imposition of a compliance fee, for county governments. The bill would also require each county and MDE to adopt the United States Environmental Protection Agency solid waste management hierarchy.

MACo supported the bill with amendments to: (1) remove consideration of specified percentage goals for recycling and waste diversion and instead require the Task Force to consider appropriate and realistically achievable minimum recycling rates and maximum landfill disposal rates; and (2) remove language referencing the compliance fee and other penalties. MACo argued that a zero waste policy should be approached form a collaborative and incentive-based perspective, rather than one that simply imposed more unfunded mandates and compliance penalties on county governments.

FINAL STATUS: The House passed HB 240 with amendments that included MACo’s proposed language regarding consideration of recycling and landfill disposal rates but retained the bill’s original compliance fee language. The Senate education, Health, and Economic Affairs Committee gave both HB 240 and SB 56 an unfavorable report.

MACo HB 240 Testimony

MACo SB 56 Testimony

Recycling – Bottle Deposit: SB 394 would create a statewide container deposit fee of five cents on specified beverage containers sold in the State. The deposit fee would be paid by the consumer at the point of sale and placed into a Container Recycling Incentive Fund. Counties would have to establish or license a series of redemption centers throughout the State and a consumer could redeem the five cents by turning in a container to a center. The Fund would pay each redemption center a 1 cent handling fee for each container processed.

MACo opposed the bill citing costs to create the redemption centers and the underlying infrastructure needed to handle the containers, the potential negative impacts on existing county recycling efforts, and concerns over integrating a bottle deposit program into an already mature and robust statewide recycling scheme.

FINAL STATUS: The Senate Finance Committee heard SB 394 but took no action.

MACo SB 394 Testimony

Recycling – Special Events: As introduced SB 781 would require counties to update their recycling plans to provide for: (1) the collection and recycling of materials from public and commercial buildings; (2) the collection and recycling of materials from certain special events; and (3) where not already provided, a strategy for providing single-stream curbside recycling collection services to all single-family residences. The plans would have to be implemented by October 1, 2016. The State would have to amend it recycling plan to include the placement of recycling receptacles immediately adjacent to each trash receptacle in State owned or operated buildings. The bill would also establish non-compliance civil penalties for special event and commercial building recycling and authorize local governments to enforce and collect the penalties.

MACo opposed the bill, arguing that new recycling initiatives should be reached collaboratively between the State and county governments rather than mandated with no assistance or resources. MACo also cited the significant new cost, administrative, and enforcement burdens the bill would impose on counties.

FINAL STATUS: The General Assembly passed SB 781 with amendments removing all of the bill’s provisions except for the special event recycling requirements. MACo dropped its opposition to the amended version of the bill but continued to voice ongoing concerns about the formulation of recycling policy in Maryland.

MACo SB 781 Testimony

Economic Impact Analysis for Phosphorus Risk Assessment and Management Tools: HB 193 / SB 27 would require the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) to prepare a full economic impact analysis on the costs to persons who are required to have a nutrient management plan before: (1) making any change to the phosphorus risk assessment tool or index; or (2) implementing a phosphorus management tool. When preparing the analysis, MDA must consult with certain stakeholders, including local governments.

MACo supported the bill as it required MDA to determine the potential costs and benefits of a proposed phosphorus management change on farmers.

FINAL STATUS: The House Environmental Matters Committee heard HB 193 but took no action. The Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee heard SB 27 but took no action. However, MDA has voluntarily agreed to perform the economic impact analysis before proceeding with new phosphorus management tool regulations.

MACo HB 193 Testimony

MACo SB 27 Testimony

Required Studies for Conowingo Dam Water Quality Certification: HB 910 would require an applicant from seeking a water quality certificate as part of the Conowingo Dam relicensing process to fund certain studies that are due to MDE by May 31, 2017. The studies must determine: (1) the composition and impact of the sediment trapped behind the Conowingo Dam on the Chesapeake Bay; (2) the costs and benefits of managing the sediment; (3) methods of reducing flooding downstream of the Dam; and (4) any other issue MDE considers appropriate based on the result of a study being conducted by the United States Army Corps of Engineers and MDE.

MACo supported the bill as it is a reasonable request to have the license applicant, the energy generation company Exelon, fund the needed studies. Exelon is already required to provide significant information as part of its relicensing process with both the State and federal governments and the studies would help both the State and counties make informed decisions on how to address the water pollution challenges posed by the Conowingo Dam.

Final Status: The House Environmental Matters Committee heard HB 910 but took no action. However, MDE committed to getting the information sought by HB 910 from Exelon as part of Exelon’s relicensing process with the State.

MACo HB 910 Testimony

Cumulative Impact Assessments for Environmental Permits: HB 1210 / SB 706 would require MDE to conduct a cumulative environmental impact assessment when considering a variety of environmental permit requests, including: air quality control, landfills, incinerators, water pollution discharge permits, sewage sludge storage, and various hazardous material facilities. MDE must use the assessment’s findings when determining whether to issue the permit or impose limitations on the permit to offset adverse cumulative environmental impacts.

MACo opposed bill, noting that while the underlying concerns of the bill were valid, the bill’s provisions would prove challenging and costly to implement and could result in higher MDE permit fees and increased delays in permit issuance and review.

FINAL STATUS: The House Environmental Matters Committee heard but took no action on HB 1210. The Senate passed SB 706 with amendments limiting the cumulative environmental impact assessment requirement to a specific area in Prince George’s County but the House Environmental Matters Committee gave the SB 706 an unfavorable report.

MACo HB 1210 Testimony

Note: There is no MACo testimony for SB 706.

Acceptance of Federal Funds By Maryland Drinking Water Revolving Loan Fund: SB 101 is a departmental bill by MDE that would clarify that monies from the Maryland Drinking Water Revolving Loan Fund may be used to provide financial assistance in the form of grants, negative interest loans, forgiveness of principal, subsidized interest rates, and any other forms of financial assistance as authorized or required by: (1) § 302 of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act; (2) Title VI of the federal Water Pollution Control Act; or (3) other federal appropriations or authorization acts. Without the clarifications, the ability of the Fund to accept federal funding would be compromised.

MACo supported the bill as the Fund provides assistance to many local government drinking water projects and upgrades.

FINAL STATUS: The General Assembly passed SB 101.

MACo SB 101 Testimony

For further information about the bills in this section or other environment bills, please contact Les Knapp at 410.269.0043 or lknapp@mdcounties.org.