MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp briefed the House Environment and Transportation Committee on MACo and its legislative initiatives, county demographics and responsibilities, solar siting, and recycling challenges. Knapp provided this update on January 22, 2019.
Knapp discussed the diverse needs and demographics of Maryland’s counties and urged that “one size does not fit all.” Knapp also described the broad range of services counties provide (many either mandated or governed under state law). Some of the services cited by Knapp included:
- community college funding
- election supervision
- legal (counsel and prosecution)
- alcoholic beverage control
- health department support
- public education and school funding
- land use planning and zoning
- library funding
- public safety (law enforcement, fire protection, corrections, building inspections, and animal control)
- public works (road construction and maintenance, water, sewer, stormwater management, solid waste collection, and recycling)
- recreation and parks facilities
Knapp also briefly covered the three types of county governments: (1) commission; (2) charter; and (3) code home rule. Knapp stressed that the type of county government defined the powers and local autonomy for each county.
Knapp also provided a brief introduction to MACo and its advocacy, research, and educational activities. MACo resources include its website, blog, podcast, legislative tracking database, Twitter account, and Facebook page. Four of MACo’s products that may be useful for legislators include: (1) Directory of County Officials; (2) County Budget and Tax Rate Survey; (3) County Salary Survey; and (4) County Fact Sheets.
MACo Legislative Initiatives
Knapp highlighted MACo’s four Legislative Initiatives for the 2019 Session, including (1) continue State commitment to education; (2) re-prioritize public health; (3) repeal “implied preemption” court doctrine (likely a 2-year effort); and (4) advance Next Generation 9-1-1 implementation.
Solar Development and Siting
MACo has been heavily involved with the zoning and land use issues posed by large-scale (community and utility) solar projects over the last several years and Knapp discussed the benefits and drawbacks of large-scale solar developments and the need for a thoughtful siting approach. Knapp laid out MACo’s position on solar siting:
MACo is supportive of solar energy development but has stressed the importance of local zoning and siting requirements. MACo recognizes that there needs to be a mix of rooftop, community, and utility-scale solar projects to meet Maryland’s renewable energy goals and has established a prioritization of solar projects, starting with rooftop solar, moving to grayfield (parking lot, warehouse rooftop) and brownfield development, and finally to open space zoned by local governments. MACo is concerned about the protection of prime farmland, forested lands, critical areas and wetlands, and areas of cultural/historical importance.
Finally, Knapp discussed recycling challenges currently facing counties. Knapp noted that unlike in most other states, Maryland’s counties are mandated to provide recycling services. Maryland has achieved high recycling participation rates through pushing single-stream recycling but now counties are facing a materials problem largely caused by recent actions by China. China is one of the largest recycling processors in the world and for several reasons has instituted a new “National Sword” policy that severely limits the amount of foreign recycled materials they will accept.
The China policy is causing significant problems for Maryland and many other states as the United States lacks the industrial facilities to needed to process the amount of corrugated cardboard, mixed paper, and plastics that we generate. Knapp stated that this is forcing counties to landfill or otherwise dispose of these types of recyclables because there is currently no market for them. Knapp noted that the problem likely requires a national response to encourage development of more recycling processors within the United States.
Knapp concluded on a positive note by stating that Maryland is continuing to move towards the composting of organic and food waste.