This post summarizes the status of various environmental bills that MACo took a position on during the 2020 Regular Session.
MACo seeks practical solutions to environmental issues that do not impose unreasonable mandates or costs on county governments.
This year, for the first time in since the Civil War, the General Assembly closed session early on March 18, due to precautionary social distancing measures taken to curb the spread of COVID-19. Consequently, many bills did not have hearings or did not move forward due to time constraints to meet the new deadline. For more information on Maryland’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic visit MACo’s COVID-19 Resource Page.
Climate Change – Resilience Authorities
MACo strongly supported legislation that will allow local governments to create resilience authorities to aid in the financing of resilience infrastructure projects. Resilience authorities created will be considered part of the local government and have the ability to issue and sell bonds, helping to finance resilience infrastructure. Counties lauded the legislation, as many communities across the State struggle with the impacts of sea level rise, and local governments are looking for means to effectively finance necessary mitigation infrastructure to protect waterfront areas from the effects of climate change. Local Governments – Resilience Authorities – Authorization passed both chambers with minor amendments and will be sent to the Governor for his signature.
One notable amendment is the removal of a requirement that an eligible municipality must have at least 30,000 residents to establish a resiliency authority; As passed, any local government of any size now has the ability to establish a resilience authority.
MACo supported legislation that expands authorized uses of the Bay Restoration Fund to include stormwater management measures relating to water quality, climate resiliency, or flood control. The expanded authority gives counties more funding options to develop and implement efforts to strengthen their infrastructure to better handle more frequent flooding events. Counties supported move as it gives them another “tool in the toolbox” to tackle issues like sea level rise and nuisance flooding. The bill passed through both chambers with minor amendments and will be sent to the Governor for his signature.
MACo supported legislation that would provide counties with an enhanced means to coordinate energy purchasing for their communities in order to help foster competition, lower prices, or pursue cleaner supply. The legislation would have allowed counties and municipalities the freedom to form or to join community choice aggregators at their discretion instead of requiring the Public Service Commission (PSC) to first find insufficient choice of electrical competition within the boundaries of a jurisdiction and licenses the jurisdiction to do so. Electric Industry – Community Choice Energy passed through the House with a favorable report as a pilot project for Montgomery County, but did not advance in the Senate after its public hearing.
Septic Systems and Wastewater Facilities
MACo supported legislation that reasonably expands the authorized uses of the Bay Restoration Fund (BRF) to include costs associated with the connection of a property using an on-site sewage disposal system to an existing municipal wastewater facility that has signed a funding agreement with the Department of the Environment and is under construction to achieve enhanced nutrient removal or biological nutrient removal level treatment. This legislation will benefit several counties that are in the process of upgrading facilities but lack funds to complete connections, helping counties attain higher water standards and prevent pollution. Bay Restoration Fund – Use of Funds – Municipal Wastewater Facilities passed through the senate with minor amendments and will be sent to the Governor for approval.
MACo supported with amendments legislation that would establish licensing and training requirements for on-site wastewater property inspectors. Counties are aware of numerous instances where inspectors with little or no training signed off on a septic system that was clearly failing or in need of major repairs and recognize the need for regulation in the area. However, counties do not believe creating a Board specifically to oversee such licensing would be necessary because the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) is a more appropriate body to independently oversee licensing and training. Environment – On-Site Wastewater Services – Regulation passed third reader in the House and was referred to the Senate, but did not advance before close of session.
MACO supported with amendments legislation that would address the systemic issue of improper septic inspections by transfer inspectors by requiring the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to create an onsite wastewater property transfer license and training requirements for septic system inspectors. MACo worked with the bill’s sponsor, stakeholders, and county environmental health directors on amendments to clarify and correct some of the bill’s provisions, including the establishment of appropriate financial penalties. Any penalties collected by MDE would go into the septic account of the Bay Restoration Fund. On-Site Sewage Disposal Systems – Inspection – Licensing passed through the Senate and was referred to the House, but did not advance following the hearing.
Water Quality Certifications
MACo opposed legislation that would have complicated a certification process for water quality, granted unprecedented legal standing to entities without a direct effect, and ultimately would have significantly increased project costs for local governments. Following its public hearing, Environment – Water Quality Certifications – Requests (Water Quality Certification Improvement Act) received an unfavorable report from the House Environment and Transportation Committee and was withdrawn by the sponsor.
MACO opposed legislation that would apply unnecessary uniform standards to water supply systems regardless of size, and place undue burden on smaller systems to adopt costly and potentially redundant procedures that larger systems have already implemented. Counties and municipalities argued that conforming all local standards to what the legislation proposed would be costly and inefficient and not necessarily yield more positive outcomes. Public Water Systems – Supplier Requirements (Water Quality Accountability Act of 2020) received an unfavorable report in the House and did not advance.
MACo opposed legislation that sought to create a new and vaguely defined constitutional right and an expansive new class of litigants with broad standing rights to litigate or intervene. In Maryland, environmental standing (i.e. the ability to file suit, frequently to hold up a decision or action) is typically limited to an “aggrieved” party – a person with a specific interest or property right that has been harmed in a way different to that of the general public. This standing requirement properly limits legal challenges to those directly affected by a state or local action. Counties argued against the language that would result in a potentially significant increase in costs due to additional litigation. Additionally, the vague language proposed could undermine and complicate basic services that local governments provide to residents, like transportation, water and sewer services, and planning and zoning. Constitutional Amendment – Environmental Rights ultimately received an unfavorable report from the House committee and was withdrawn.
MACo opposed legislation that would have forced facilities that generate food residuals in certain volumes starting with two tons per week in 2021 separate residuals from other solid waste and divert them to an organic composting facility within 30 miles. Counties expressed fears that mandating the use of the limited number of state composting facilities could lead to price gouging as food residual generators do not have another cost-effective option for disposal. Solid Waste Management – Organics Recycling and Waste Diversion – Food Residuals did not advance following a public hearing in the House Environment and Transportation Committee.
MACo stood against legislation that would have required that the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) establish a statewide container deposit program by September 1, 2021 with a redemption goal of 90 percent, and a minimum deposit of ten cents. Counties argued that the move, one that Maryland has debated and rejected various times, would divert valuable commodities from county recycling programs, with no guarantee of fiscal assistance to those counties, and potentially confuse consumers who have been educated to utilize curbside and single stream recycling programs. Beverage Container Deposit Program – Establishment and Advisory Commission did not advance after the public hearing in the House.
MACo supported legislation that would mandate that hotels provide recycling services for both guests and staff, while allowing counties to mandate reporting. Requiring hotels to provide recycling services would allow counties to count the recycled and reported material toward achieving their State mandated recycling goals, which some jurisdictions struggle to meet. However, Environment – Recycling – Hotels did not advance after its public hearing in the House.
Maryland Department of Environment
MACo supported legislation that would require the Office of Recycling contained within the Maryland Department of the Environment to identify new and existing markets for recycled commodities. Counties, who must reach certain state mandated recycling goals, have struggled to sell recycled commodities since market demand from Asia has declined. A study by MDE would benefit counties by identifying new and existing local markets to keep recycled material closer to where they were first used, thus reducing the costs and vehicle emissions associated with transporting commodities. Unfortunately, Department of the Environment – Office of Recycling – Recycling Market Development passed the House with amendments and was referred to the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee but did not advance before session closed.
MACo argued against legislation that would have required local jurisdictions to conduct expansive annual mold inspections in many different buildings and facilities. In all jurisdictions, this would require the addition of significant new resources resulting in costly expenditures. Environment – Mold Inspections – Standards, Reporting, and Penalties did not advance following its public hearing.
MACo supported legislation that would return the State Board of Environmental Health Specialits’ financial support to the General Fund, thereby helping ensure stable and predictable funding for the Local Environmental Health Directors that provide vital services, including oversight of recreation venues, ensuring food safety preparation standards are upheld, and ensuring safe water supply. State Board of Environmental Health Specialists – Fees – General Fund received a favorable report in the Senate and was referred to the House Appropriations Committee, but failed to advance following its public hearing.
Trash and Debris
MACo proposed amendments to legislation that would have prohibited retailers from providing plastic carryout bags less than 4 mils thick to customers and required that retailers collect ten cents for each paper bag they distribute.
Counties opposed the preemptive aspects of the bill that would lead to the elimination of existing plastic reduction laws, including the Montgomery County program where they charge a 5 cent fee on bags that generates $2.5 million annually for water quality improvement and other environmentally beneficial pursuits.
MACo was able to work with the Legislature to amend several aspects of the proposed legislation. Amendments added to the bill remove the initially proposed requirement that retailers collect ten cents per bag. They also expressly preempt local laws, but would allow jurisdictions to charge fees on paper bags if they have programs established prior to February 1, 2020.
Plastics and Packaging Reduction Act passed third reader in the House and received a favorable report from the Senate Finance Committee. However, the bill failed to advance before the close of session.