MACo Requests Removal of Local Referenda Mandate on Fracking

MACo Legal & Policy Counsel Les Knapp offered amendments to legislation (SB 862) that would require all local governments to hold a referendum on whether natural gas hydraulic fracturing (fracking) should be allowed within the jurisdiction should the State ever permit fracking to occur in Maryland. A local government may only allow fracking if the voters support it, but may prohibit fracking or enact stricter requirements regardless of the referendum’s outcome.

The bill also extends the existing moratorium on fracking until October 1, 2019, and requires the Maryland Department of the Environment to repeal its current fracking regulations and adopt new regulations based on the best practices and protections adopted by other states and specified fracking studies. Senator Joan Carter Conway sponsored the bill. Knapp requested that the local referenda requirement be removed from the bill. From MACo’s testimony:

MACo’s concern with SB 862 is not about whether to allow or ban hydraulic fracturing in the state. Rather, it is about the idea of ceding the decision-making authority of lawfully elected local officials to a populist decision. Our government is a representative democracy and local officials were elected to make difficult policy decisions – they are held accountable by their voters when they fail to meet their citizens’ expectations.

If fracking is permitted in Maryland, MACo believes each local government should have the authority to decide for itself whether to authorize the activity, impose stricter requirements on the activity, or ban it altogether. Forcing the question to a referendum undermines both the authority and proper role of local officials, whose responsibility it is to understand the potentially long-reaching effects of such legislation on their entire communities.

Additionally, the referendum requirement establishes a troubling precedent that could then be applied to other challenging policy issues. Ultimately, the State could begin requiring referenda on any contentious or challenging issue, undermining local decisions and authority altogether.

The Sierra Club of Maryland also testified in support of MACo’s proposed amendments.

Useful Links

SB 862 of 2017

MACo Testimony on SSB 862

Senator Conway Webpage

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.