This post summarizes the status of various environmental bills that MACo took a position on during the 2019 Regular Session.
MACo seeks practical solutions to environmental issues that do not impose unreasonable mandates or costs on county governments.
Septic Systems – Definition of “Failing System”
Legislation established a statutory definition for a “failing on-site sewage disposal system,” which triggers certain enforcement provisions regarding repair or upgrade requirements and may allow the system’s owner access to grant funding under the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund. MACo supported the bill with amendments, noting that any statutory must be carefully balanced so that minor maintenance issues are not classified as failing and some enforcement discretion is provided to MDE and local health departments.
MACo offered amendments that: (1) only covered system failures that pose a threat pose threat to public health; (2) eliminated vague terminology; (3) allowed for reasonable enforcement discretion to account for the specific system problems and site characteristics; and (4) treated cesspools in the same manner as other sewage disposal systems. The bill, with MACo’s amendments, passed through the General Assembly.
MACo supported legislation, with amendments, that would create a Task Force on Forest Conservation in Maryland that would have analyzed the state’s current and future forest coverage and recommended changes to the Forest Conservation Act (FCA). MACo noted that it critical for everyone to be operating with the same data and understanding of what is happening with Maryland’s forests before making important and far-reaching policy decisions.
The General Assembly passed both bills with amendment acceptable to MACo that changed the bill into a technical study. As amended, the bills require the Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology, in consultation with the Department of Natural Resources, MDE, Department of Planning, Department of Agriculture (MDA), and Chesapeake Bay Program, to conduct a technical study to review changes in forest cover and tree canopy in the state.
MACo supported legislation, with amendments, that would add additional requirements to local forest conservation funds that collected a fee-in-lieu for forest mitigation projects and expanded a reporting requirement for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
MACo requested deleting bill language that required: (1) a local authority to identify specific mitigation projects before it can collect a fee-in-lieu (this language is impractical); and (2) a local authority to fully mitigate acreage for which a fee-in-lieu was collected (this language is vague and already covered by reporting requirements).
The General Assembly passed this legislation with the amendments supported by MACo.
Maryland Department of the Environment
MACo initially opposed legislation that would have required a local jurisdiction that has been delegated to enforce sediment and erosion control laws to annually report the MDE on specific violations and enforcement actions, noting that the reporting requirements were significant and could be very costly and burdensome for smaller counties that lack staff and resources. MACo dropped its opposition after the bills were amended to include a technical assistance requirement from MDE. The General Assembly passed this legislation with amendments agreed upon by MACo. As amended, the bills require a local jurisdiction that has been delegated to enforce sediment and erosion control laws and regulations to annually report to MDE on potential violations and enforcement actions related to: (1) sediment erosion control laws and regulations; and (2) building and grading permits. MDE must then post the information on its website. If asked by a jurisdiction, MDE must also provide technical assistance to jurisdiction to meet the reporting requirements.
Maryland Department of Agriculture
MACo supported legislation that established a nuisance insect program with MDA. The bill also established a Nuisance Insect Fund to cover the costs of the program. A local government would have to provide a 50 percent match if it wanted MDA to conduct a control project within its jurisdiction. This bill would create comprehensive control program to address nuisance insects in a reasonable and sustainable way.
The General Assembly passed HB 1353 with amendments acceptable to MACo. As amended, the bill establishes a nuisance insect program within MDA that is funded by a Nuisance Insect Fund. Nuisance insect” is defined as an insect that is determined by the Department to pester or annoy only humans (such as black flies). Nuisance insects do not include: (1) an insect that is a threat to the health of humans, animals, or plants; or (2) a pollinator.
MACo opposed legislation that proposed an amendment to the Maryland Constitution, establishing that every person has a right to a clean and healthy environment. MACo argued that the amendment: (1) created a new and vaguely defined constitutional right that could override longstanding and well-understood environmental laws and practices; (2) created an expansive new class of litigants with broad standing rights to litigate or intervene; and (3) imposed potentially significant new costs on county governments by altering how counties delivered a variety of services. The bill sponsor withdrew the bill.
MACo opposed legislation that would require a person to dispose of synthetic turf or turf infill only at: (1) a controlled hazardous substance facility; or (2) a closed-loop recycling facility (a facility that takes old synthetic turf and remakes it into new synthetic turf). All other forms of disposal are prohibited. This bill would have created a major inconsistency in Maryland’s recycling policy by prohibiting reuse of synthetic turf and limiting other recycling options, substantially increased disposal costs on counties as there are no hazardous substance or closed-loop recycling facilities in the state, and set an illogical precedent of treating synthetic turf similar to dangerous materials that have legal chain of custody requirements. The bill sponsor withdrew the bill.
Trash and Debris
MACo supported legislation, with amendments, that would create a Task Force to study potential methods, feasibility, and costs of preventing debris from entering storm drains and stormwater inlets washing into the Chesapeake Bay or its tributaries. The Task Force was required to consider potential funding sources, pilot programs, and recommendations regarding debris prevention. Citing the large number of county-owned storm drains owned or maintained by counties, MACo requested a county member be added to the proposed 6-member Task Force. This legislation was given an unfavorable report by committee.
MACo supported legislation that would require MDE to include specified trash and debris provisions as part of its Water Quality Certification requirements for the Conowingo Dam. The bill’s provisions required the dam’s owner, Exelon, to: (1) remove floating trash and debris from the Conowingo Reservoir at least 40 times each year; (2) use a self-propelled skimmer barge to remove trash from the reservoir daily; (3) sponsor at least two annual community-based cleanups of the reservoir each year; and (4) conduct a feasibility study on using water wheel trash interceptors in the reservoir. This legislation was withdrawn by the bill sponsor.
Other Bills of Interest
The following bills may be of interest to counties even though MACo did not take a formal position on them. In some cases, the bills were handled through one of MACo’s affiliate organizations.
Legislation was introduced that would have required MDE to create licensing requirements for septic system installers and inspectors. The bill sponsor of On-Site Sewage Disposal Systems – Construction and Inspection Licenses accepted amendments offered by the Maryland Conference of Local Environmental Health Directors that would exempt government employees who have certain certifications. The Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee gave this bill an Unfavorable report.
An introduced bill would create a State Board of Onsite-Wastewater Professionals to oversee and enforce the licensing requirements created under the previously mentioned legislation above (On-Site Sewage Disposal Systems – Construction and Inspection Licenses). The Board was also tasked with creating new septic system regulations and standards. The bill, Environment – On-Site Wastewater Services – Regulation, was withdrawn by its sponsor. MACo, the Maryland Conference of Local Environmental Health Directors, and MDE have agreed to work with the bill advocates over the summer to see if both of these bills can be amended into workable legislation.
Legislation was introduced to expand the uses of the septic system account within the Bay Restoration Fund, including the ability for a county to issue bonds based on the monies it would receive from the Fund. Bay Restoration Fund – Authorized Uses, Mandatory Appropriation, and County Authority to Incur Indebtedness also required a one-time mandatory appropriation of $10 million into the Fund for FY 2021. The bill was withdrawn by its sponsor.
A bill was introduced that allowed for the reuse of certain water diverted from going into septic systems, such as water from ice makers or backwash from an on-site potable water treatment system. The General Assembly passed Environment – Reuse of Water Diverted From Septic Systems with an amendment requiring the reused water to contain no constituents that are detrimental to public health or the environment and removing water flushed from a conventional toilet or urinal.
Legislation was introduced to create new public notification requirements for sewer overflows and treatment plant bypasses. The General Assembly passed Water Pollution Control – Notification of Sewer Overflows and Treatment Plant Bypasses – Alteration with amendments. As amended the bill requires MDE, in cooperation with the Maryland Department of Health (MDH), local health departments, and local environmental health directors to develop notice procedures for sewer system and wastewater treatment plant owners for sewer overflows or treatment plant bypasses.
Legislation was introduced that changed Maryland’s “No net loss of forest” goal. Under the current goal, 40% of all land in Maryland must be covered by “tree canopy” which includes urban tree coverage. The bills changed the goal to 40% coverage by “forest.” The Senate passed Natural Resources – No Net Loss of Forest – Definition with amendments requiring the 40% coverage to be determined by data used in the most current Chesapeake Bay Watershed Model and clarifying that the bill may not be construed to affect any program conducted by a unit of State or local government in accordance with the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, a Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System Permit, urban tree canopy goals, or any other local program. However, the House took no action on the bill.
Legislation was passed through the General Assembly with amendments that require recycling for certain office buildings. As amended, Environment – Recycling – Office Buildings required office buildings with at least 150,000 square feet or more to offer recycling of specified materials by October 1, 2021. The county or municipality in which the office building is located determines the specific materials to be recycled within the broad categories of paper and cardboard, metal, and plastic materials. Counties are not required to manage or enforce recycling activities of a commercial property that is located within the boundaries of a municipality.
Legislation was introduced that prohibited a refuse disposal system from accepting loads of separately collected food waste for final disposal unless the system provides for the composting of food waste. The General Assembly passed Organic Waste – Organics Recycling – Collection and Acceptance for Final Disposal with amendments.