2019 Environmental Summit Showcases Solar, “Green” Amendment, & Enforcement Legislation

The 25th annual Maryland Environmental Legislative Summit unveiled the key priorities of the environmental community for the 2019 Session. Their legislative initiatives included: (1) passing the Maryland Clean Energy Jobs initiative, which among other things would increase the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS); (2) putting a healthy “green” constitutional amendment on the ballot; (3) enacting a state Styrofoam ban for food service products; and (4) ensuring adequate environmental funding in the State budget and enforcement (this would also include a significant local government reporting requirement).

The Summit was held on February 6, 2019, in the Miller Senate Office Building in Annapolis. Numerous state legislators and environmental officials attended the event along with several hundred members of the environmental community.

Acting Secretary of Natural Resources Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio made opening comments. Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles was also in attendance.

In addition to presentations on each of the environmental initiatives, several legislative leaders spoke:

Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs (EHE) Committee Chair Paul Pinsky stated that “[we] have made progress but still have a long way to go” to achieve the goals of the environmental community. Pinsky stated that the EHE Committee will focus on climate change and the protection of the Chesapeake Bay. He opined that the state is done with the “low hanging fruit” for climate change and that Maryland needs to consider carbon pricing, reducing automobiles, and expanding mass transit.

Pinsky expressed support for the RPS/Clean Energy Jobs Initiative, a statewide plan for the siting of solar facilities, Forest Conservation Act legislation, and the foam ban. Pinsky also stressed the importance of “bringing back the oyster” to the Chesapeake Bay. Noting his support for legislation establishing oyster sanctuaries, he stated, “We cannot allow people to dredge every last damn oyster in the Bay. We can’t allow it.”

House Environment and Transportation (E&T) Committee Chair Kumar Barve was hopeful of the passage of the Styrofoam ban. He called for a long term strategy to address China’s recent refusal to accept plastic and paper for recycling processing, noting that now some of this material is landfilled or incinerated. On transportation, Barve stressed that the E&T Committee will look at investing in new transportation technologies, including monorails and autonomous vehicles. Barve also called for increased solar siting in open areas, citing that it was far cheaper than installing rooftop solar. Barve noted, “Properly sited solar energy in fields can be cheaper than natural gas.”

House Speaker Michael Busch was unable to attend due to traffic delays, but his Chief of Staff Alexandra Hughes made several brief comments. Hughes offered several criticisms of the environmental record of Maryland Governor Larry Hogan but also noted that there could be some collective bi-partisan work on the Chesapeake Bay. Hughes noted that the top environmental priority for Busch was the passage of the oyster sanctuary legislation. Hughes also stated that the RPS/Clean Energy Jobs Initiative would pass sometime during this 4-year term.

Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller was unable to attend this year but sent his regards.