Environmental Groups Lay Out 2015 Legislative Agenda at 21st Annual Summit

On February 3 a broad coalition of environmental groups laid out their legislative agenda and heard from key environmental policy makers at the 21st Annual Environmental Legislative Summit. The environmental community plans to support the following issues during the 2015 Session:

  1. Renewable Energy – increasing Maryland’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard requirements to have 40% of the State’s power come from “clean” energy sources by 2025
  2. Fracking – a longterm moratorium on natural gas hydraulic fracturing pending further costs and safety studies
  3. Plastic Bags – a ban on plastic bags and a fee on paper bags
  4. Plastic “Microbeads” – banning the use of tiny plastic microbeads in various products such as toothpaste and skin cream as the beads are ending up in high concentrations in the Chesapeake Bay and infiltrating the food chain
  5.  Pesticides – limiting the use of neonicotinoid-based pesticides that have been found to be contributing to the decline of pollinating honeybees
  6. Phosphorus Management Tool (PMT) – enact the proposed PMT requirements that would limit the amount of poultry and animal manure that cold be applies to certain farmland
  7.  Stormwater Fees – defending the 2012 stormwater remediation fee legislation
  8. Budget – protecting environmental funding in the State’s FY 2016 budget

While environmental speakers generally considered Governor Hogan’s proposed FY 2016 budget reasonable with respect to environmental programs, Partners for Open Space Director Ann Jones did express concern about proposed cuts to Program Open Space (POS). Jones noted that while POS was celebrating its 45th anniversary, more than $1 billion in dedicated POS funding has been diverted for other purposes since its inception.  She noted that the funding diversions were “nonpartisan” and stressed that it was critical to return POS to full cash funding.

Comments by Speaker Mike Busch

House of Delegates Speaker Michael Busch discussed the 2012 stormwater remediation fee legislation and pending efforts to repeal it.  He stated that the purpose and nature of the fee have “totally been taken out of context as far as I am concerned.”  He stressed that House leadership sees no reason to repeal the 10-county mandate and was “going to stand firm” on protecting the fee, noting that affected counties have the flexibility to identify different funding sources to meet their stormwater runoff mitigation requirements.

The Speaker also stated that the House has reached out to the Administration of Governor Larry Hogan on possible alternatives to the controversial PMT regulations, noting that some plan was needed to address agricultural phosphorus runoff.   Finally, Busch noted that he considered sediment dredging behind the Conowingo Dam to be “off the table.”  He cited the estimated $3 billion dredging cost and expressed doubt that the federal government would be willing to fund that expensive a project.

Comments by Senator Joan Carter Conway

Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Chair Joan Carter Conway stressed that the Senate was still concerned about the environment and that “its going to be a hard session.”  She noted that her committee will be looking at PMT requirements, the stormwater fee repeal, and fracking.

Comments by Delegate Kumar Barve

House Environment and Transportation Committee Chair Kumar Barve stated that his committee will be “very heavily driven by math and science” when addressing environmental issues.  He stated environmental solutions must be both environmentally and economically sustainable and that he has urged Governor Hogan to participate in finding solutions.  He noted, “I believe we are not that far apart [on potential solutions].”  Barve also stressed that his committee would be “very deliberative” regarding the costs and benefits of fracking.

Comments by Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles

Secretary of the Environment-designee Benjamin Grumbles said he was committed to a bipartisan and collaborative approach to environmental issues.  “We absolutely need to make progress environmentally,” he stated but also noted that Maryland also had to remain economically viable.  He warned that MDE was “not afraid to use our regulatory tools” when needed.

The keynote speaker of the event was Dr. Spencer Phillips, the founder and principal of Key-Log Economics.