Environmental advocates addressed a standing room only sized crowd at the 23rd Annual Maryland Environmental Summit on January 26 in the Miller Senate Office Building in Annapolis. The Summit is a forum where the environmental community discusses their collective Session agenda and state and federal officials offer their perspectives pending environmental legislation issues.
Maryland Secretary of the Environment Benjamin Grumbles was the first official speaker, noting, “The State is a leader in demonstrating bi-partisan collaborative approach on climate change.” Grumbles also highlighted Governor Lawrence “Larry” Hogan’s environmental initiatives for 2017, including: (1) promoting clean cars/electric vehicles; (2) establishing a Green Energy Institute; (3) worker training initiatives for green jobs; and (4) exploring pilot projects that build partnerships to bring additional people and solutions into consideration. On the fourth initiative, Grumbles explained that the Governor wanted to “add additional tools to speed up the clean up of the Chesapeake Bay.”
Maryland Senator Joan Carter Conway, chair of the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee, stated she did not want “a gold standard but a platinum standard” for natural gas hydraulic fracturing (commonly known as “fracking”) if fracking was ever allowed in Maryland. However, several audience members voiced their opposition when Conway explained that there were not enough votes to pass a full fracking ban on the Senate floor.
Maryland Delegate and House Environment and Transportation Committee Chair Kumar Barve pledged that “my committee will act decisively on fracking this year,” and that the House would override Governor Hogan’s veto of legislation last year that would increase the renewable energy targets under Maryland’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). Barve also argued that solar and other renewable energy must be allowed at scales that make it competitive with fossil fuels and that his committee would be holding discussions on how to “scale up” wind and solar power over the Session.
Maryland House Speaker Michael Busch stated that on environmental issues, “We are not going to back down one iota in the Maryland House of Delegates.” He promised that the House would override the Governor’s RPS veto and would take a “hard look” at banning fracking. He urged attendees to hold their legislators accountable for their environmental votes.
Maryland Senate President Michael “Mike” Miller discussed the success of the Chesapeake Conservation Corps program, criticized the administration of United States President Donald Trump, and noted that the Senate will vote to override Hogan’s RPS veto 34 to 14 on February 2.
United States Congressman John Sarbanes pledged to fight to protect environmental progress on Capitol Hill and resist any proposal by the Trump Administration to roll back current environmental requirements.
Baltimore City Health Commissioner Leana Wen was the keynote speaker and discussed the inter-relationship between the environment and public health. Wen asserted that we are living in “wobbly times” right now and argued that it is critical to share stories of success and look at the cost of doing nothing and not just at the cost of intervention when making policy decisions. Wen also stressed the linkage between environmental justice and social justice, arguing that “environmental justice is the social justice issue of our time.”
Environmental advocates also presented their top four priorities for the 2017 Session:
- Override Governor Hogan’s veto of last year’s RPS legislation (Maryland Clean Energy Jobs Act)
- Ban fracking in Maryland
- Pass the Keep Antibiotics Effective Act (would limit the use of antibiotics on farms)
- Reinstate a requirement to use septic systems with best available nitrogen removal technology (BAT) everywhere in the State
In discussing the BAT septic system issue, 1000 Friends of Maryland Executive Director Dru Schmidt-Perkins acknowledged that nitrogen pollution from septic systems was only a small part of Maryland’s total nitrogen load but stated that it was one of the few pollution areas still growing and that no county was currently meeting its 2025 Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load reduction for septic systems. Schmidt-Perkins also stressed the need to protect local waters as well as the waters of the Bay.