Montgomery County Suing Opioid Manufacturers & Distributors

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett

Washington Post article (2017-12-12) announced that Montgomery County Executive Ike has retained the law firm Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP to pursue legal action against manufacturers and distributors of opioid painkillers. Maryland, like the rest the nation, is facing an opioid crisis. From the article:

Leggett said one goal of the lawsuit is to challenge opioid manufacturers and distributors who may understate how addicting their drugs can be.

There were 84 opioid-related deaths in the county in 2016, said Raymond Crowel, chief of behavioral health and crisis services for Montgomery’s Department of Health and Human Services. Numbers for 2017 are not yet available.

A Montgomery County press release (2017-12-12) from Leggett provided further information:

“Every day brings fresh evidence of the very real damage that the Opioid crisis in wreaking on individuals and communities throughout our great nation. I wish I could stand here and tell you that Montgomery County is immune to this epidemic. Unfortunately I cannot do that. Ask our first-responders in our Fire & Rescue Service and in our Police. Ask our front-line personnel in Health & Human Services. Death. Addiction. Broken families. Broken lives. We are living this reality today.

“As we continue to respond as a County to the critical needs created by this epidemic, I wanted to do more. I wanted to reach out and ask that those manufacturers and distributors of opioids who marketed the drugs and possibly downplayed their addictive nature be held responsible somehow for the consequences of those actions.

“That is why I asked for – and the Council approved, today – the hiring of outside counsel – the firm of Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP — to investigate the culpability of opioid producers and distributors and move to take legal action for reimbursement to the County for taxpayer resources that have been, are, and will be used to respond to the crisis.”

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of the Opioids

State Development Plan Perspectives Offered at #MACoCon

County officials received and update on the pending State Development Plan on December 7 at the 2017 MACo Winter Conference. The panel was called “Planning Ahead: Preparing for the New State Development Plan” and was moderated by Wicomico County Council Member Matthew Holloway.

From Left to Right: John Campagna, Gerrit Knaap, Council Member Matt Holloway, and Special Secretary Wendi Peters

Maryland Special Secretary of Smart Growth Wendi Peters stated that the new State Development Plan, called “A Better Maryland,” would be built on local comprehensive plans and focus on: (1) identifying local priorities; (2) improving communication between state agencies; and (3) assessing information needs at both the state and local levels. Peters noted that as part of the plan development process, other planning tools, such as the Maryland Transportation Plan and infrastructure funding, would also be reviewed for potential changes. Peters also provided an update on the listening session that are occurring in each county and stressed that the Maryland Department of Planning would also be meeting with regional councils and other stakeholders as well.

National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education Director Gerrit Knaap noted that only about a half-dozen states attempt a statewide plan and that statewide planning can be a useful exercise. Knaap stated that PlanMaryland, the previous and now rescinded State Development Plan, did not take into account planning trends occurring in Europe, which included planning becoming more decentralized from the state/nation level and more invested at a regional level. There was also a movement towards incentives and away from regulations to encourage local compliance with state/national goals. Knaap urged that “A Better Maryland” should be an amalgamation of local plans and Maryland can then flag areas of contention and conflict (similar to  what Maryland does for Priority Funding Areas). Knaap noted that the state can then layer other issues (transportation, enviornemntal, etc.) on top of the local “base layer.”

1000 Friends of Maryland Executive Director John Campagna stated that A Better Maryland needed three key components: (1) a partnership committment by the State; (2) solid metrics; and (3) inclusion of all stakeholders in the development process. Campagna stressed that all voices needed to be heard – urban, rural, and suburban.

Maryland’s Climate Change Strategy Discussed at 2017 Winter #MACoCon

Representatives from the Maryland Commission on Climate Change (MCCC) discussed the the current and future status of climate change efforts in Maryland at the 2017 MACo Winter Conference. The  panel was called “Rising Tides: Charting Maryland’s New Climate Change Path” and was moderated by MACo Legal & Policy Counsel Les Knapp.

From Left to Right: Secretary Ben Grumbles and Mike Powell

Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Co-Chair and Gordon Feinblatt LLC Member Michael Powell provided the background of the MCCC. Powell noted that in 2012, Maryland adopted a greenhouse gas

reduction goal of 25% of 2006 emissions by 2020 and recently adopted a new goal of a 40% reduction by 2030. The draft action plan for the new 40% goal is due in 2018. Powell stated that Maryland’s goals are basically same as those found in the Paris Accords and that the state is on track to meet the 2020 goal. Powell noted that if current trends undertaken for the 2020 goal continue and no federal climate change programs are repealed, then the state will also be close to meeting the 2030 goal.

Powell assumed that electric vehicles, a green energy grid, healthy soils, zero waste efforts, and transportation improvements would all be part of the State’s new plan for the 2030 goal. Powell also noted that there were some other proposals not currently in the plan but would be reviewed, including: a carbon Tax, including greenhouse gas emissions in all governing decisions, requiring 2% incremental energy efficiency improvements, increasing Maryland’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), tighter caps under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), restricting methane emissions from landfills and wastewater treatment plants, a “vehicle miles traveled” tax, adoption of electric school buses, strengthening building codes, prohibiting new landfill capacity after 2019, increasing local government recycling rates to 60%, and requiring more aggressive compact development.

Powell noted that Maryland did not have to undertake all of these policies and could be selective. Powell also stressed the importance of tracking economic impacts stemming from these policies.

Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Working Group Co-Chair and Chesapeake Climate Action Network Executive Director Mike Tidwell argued that  time is running out and that both the state and local governments must be aggressive in responding to climate change. Tidwell cited extreme weather examples and a projected 6-9 foot sea level rise by 2100.

From Left to Right: Mike Tidwell and Secretary Ben Grumbles

Tidwell stressed the need to adopt renewable energy within 15 years and keep 80% of all know reserves of fossil fuels in the ground. Tidwell disagreed with Powell’s assessment that the state is on track to meet the 2030 goal. Tidwell also complimented Maryland Governor Larry Hogan on his support for the 2030 goal, the 2017 EMPOWER Act, and the recently enacted ban on natural gas hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in Maryland. Tidwell criticized Hogan for his recent veto of legislation that increased the RPS to 25%.

Maryland Secretary of the Environment and Commission Chair Benjamin Grumbles described how the MCCC has taken a consensus-based approach to the new plan. Regarding mitigation, Grumbles noted that RGGI and better interstate cooperation on electric vehicles and transportation issues will be critical. Regarding adaptation, Grumbles stressed that Maryland is at risk from both sea level rise and subsidence and needs to strengthen our infrastructure to make it more resilient and avoid locating it in severely affected areas. Grumbles state that this must be done collaboratively with the counties and not “be dictated from the top down.” Finally, Grumbles briefly touched on how climate change will factor into the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL).

Saving Lives at #MACoCon

Attendees to the 2017 MACo Winter Conference learned critical first aid skills during the “‘Stayin’ Alive’ – Learn to Save a Life with Naloxone Training for Opioid Overdoses and Hands-Only CPR” panel on December 7.

Hands-Only CPR Training

Participants first learned hands-only CPR and related first aid on training dummies. The CPR training was provided by a qualified life guard employed by the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake. Participants then learned how to administer Naloxone to someone who has overdosed on opioids and tend to that person until help arrives. The Naloxone training was conducted by Charles County Health Officer Dianna Abney.

The HOPE House

Finally, representatives from the Harford County Sheriff’s Office gave a brief overview of their Heroin Overdose Prevention Effort (HOPE) House, which was on display for conference attendees. The HOPE House is a trailer that duplicates a young person’s bedroom and bathroom and teaches people to recognize signs that suggest the young person is using drugs. The HOPE House is a mobile education tool, targeting the heroin epidemic, conceived by the HOPE Workgroup, a partnership between Sheriff Jeffrey R. Gahler and members of the Harford County Community.

#MACoCon Panel: Including Health Decisions in All Policy Decisions

From Left to Right: Robert Stephens, Bridget Kerner, & Senator Addie Eckardt

Health experts discussed how to incorporate public health impacts into a county’s decision making process for all kinds of policies – not just those traditionally associated with health – on December 7 at the 2017 MACo Winter Conference. The panel was called “Health in All Policies” and was moderated by Maryland Senator Addie Eckardt. In her opening remarks, Senator Eckardt stressed that almost any decision a county makes can affect the public health.

National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) Senior Program Analyst Bridget Kerner discussed various Health in All Policies (HiAP) initiatives and the strategies needed successfully implement HiAP at a county level. Kerner noted that HiAP implements health determinations in all policy decisions and is designed to ensure that all policies have either a neutral or positive effect on public health. HiAP can cover policies relating to the built environment, economic development, comprehensive planning, and public safety. Kerner noted that HiAP began in 1999 in the European Union and is now an emerging health trend in the United States. According to Kerner, NACCHO will unveil a HiAP technical assistance program starting January 1, 2018.

Garrett County Health Officer Robert Stephens discussed the County’s recent receipt of a 2017 Culture of Health Prize. Prize Communities throughout the nation focus on better health outcomes through HiAP. Prize communities excel in six criteria: (1) defining health in broadest possible terms; (2) committing to sustainable systems changes and policy-oriented long-term solutions; (3) cultivating a shared and deeply held belief in the importance of equal opportunity for health; (4) harnessing the collective power of leaders, partners, and community members; (5) securing and making the most of available resources; and (6) measuring and sharing progress and results. Stephens noted Garrett County is not seeing growth so its health focus is more on preventative health practices, public education, and aging in place.

Counties Receive Legal Issues Update at 2017 Winter #MACoCon

County officials received updates on pending state and federal legal issues on December 6 at the 2017 MACo Winter Conference. The panel was called “From the Bench: A Federal and State Legal Update” and was moderated by Maryland Delegate William Folden.

National Association of Counties (NACo) Associate Legislative Director Jack Peterson discussed several cases before the United States Supreme Court that would address: (1) whether banning political apparel at polling places violates the first amendment ; (2) how and when states can remove individuals from their voter rolls; (3) whether comments made at a public meeting must relate to the topic under consideration; and (4) whether states and local governments can collect sales tax from online retailers regardless of whether they have a physical presence within their jurisdiction.

From left to right: Jack Peterson, Lisa Oschenhirt, Timothy Baker

Peterson discussed several regulatory issues, including the recent definitional change to the federal “Waters of the United States” rule. Peterson noted that the issue would likely remain a top legislative priority for NACo. Peterson also discussed NACo’s efforts to improve the “integrated planning” option under the Clean Water Act that in theory simplifies how local governments can meet federal and state mandates for water quality.

Finally, Peterson discussed several pending federal legislative issues, including extension of the current federal budget so that the government does not run out of money and current tax reform efforts. On tax reform, key local issues included losing the deduction for local income taxes and some property taxes and the removal of the ability to refinance local municipal bonds. Peterson stated that tax reform would probably be done by the end of the year.

AquaLaw Attorney Oschenhirt discussed the permitting process and current litigation for Maryland counties subject to a Phase I or Phase II Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit. Oschenhirt stated that Phase I controversies included: (1) whether the  permit applied across the entire county or just to those areas of a county that have stormwater systems; (2) whether the proposed permits go beyond the “maximum extent practicable” standard; and (3) whether nutrient credit trading will be included or not.

Delegate William Folden

Oschenhirt also noted that MACo, the Maryland Municipal League, and the Maryland Municipal Stormwater Association submitted joint comments on the new Phase II MS4 permit proposed by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). The comments raised concerns over who should be included in the permit, the geographic scope of the permit, the 20% treatment retrofit burden, and the lack of nutrient trading authority.

Oschenhirt also touched on the pending regulations for nutrient trading, staffing and program funding issues within the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load Mid-Point Assessment, tax sales, and state legislation regarding non-flushable wipes.

Maryland State Archivist and Commissioner of Land Patents Timothy Baker highlighted an optional program that is being set up by the Maryland State Archives to encourage county governments to appoint a records officer. The records officer would liaison with State Archives regarding document retention policies and infrastructure.

Public Safety, Voter Registration Among ACLU of Maryland 2018 Priorities

 

 

 

 

Representatives from MACo and the ACLU of Maryland meet on November 27, 2017, to discuss their respective legislative initiatives for the 2018 Session. A 2018 Session Priorities Handout provided by ACLU Maryland identified six key issues that the organization will focus on:

  1. Election Day Registration (allow voters to register and vote on the same day)
  2. Pre-Trial Justice (preserve existing judicial rules that disfavors cash bail, prohibits unaffordable bail requirements, and prevents bail from being used for public safety)
  3. Taking the Politics Out of Parole (remove the Governor’s role in the parole determination process)
  4. Solitary Confinement (“Restrictive Housing”) Reform (reform the usage and duration of administrative or disciplinary segregation of inmates and mentally ill detainees)
  5. Criminal Justice Reporting (create a task force, including local government representation, that would standardize how race and ethnicity is reported in public safety situations)
  6. Public Funding of Private and Religious Schools (restrict the use of public monies for funding private schools)

The sheet listed a number of secondary issues, such as access to justice and transparency, where the ACLU of Maryland will be active during the 2018 Session. The ACLU of Maryland will certainly take a position on MACo’s Public Information Act (PIA) reform initiative. The group opposed MACo’s PIA body camera initiative in 2016 and 2017 but has worked with MACo on other issues.

ACLU Maryland 2018 Session Priorities Handout

ACLU of Maryland Website

Report Finds Industrial Stormwater Runoff a Serious Problem in Maryland

Bay Journal article (2017-11-16) reported that stormwater runoff from industrial facilities is a threat to the health of the Chesapeake Bay, local waterways, and nearby communities. The finding comes from a recently released report compiled by the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) and the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP).  The report also criticized how the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) permits and enforces industrial stormwater runoff.

The article noted that more than one-third of permitted industrial facilities exceeded their stormwater pollution limits from 2014 to March of 2017. The report stated that auto salvage yards, scrap metal recyling facilities, and landfills were among the worst sites. Runoff from such sites could include copper, aluminum, zinc, lead, and other pollutants. Wastewater treatment plants could also be significant violators. From the article:

One in seven of the facilities required by the state to report their discharges failed to do so, the groups’ analysis found, and 40 percent of those that did submitted incomplete or partial data. What’s more, the vast majority of facilities weren’t even required to report about their stormwater discharges into local waters. …

The groups blame the “general permit” that [MDE] issues to more than 900 industrial facilities statewide. As the name suggests, its requirements are less specific and often less stringent than what facilities would have to do if they were covered by an individual pollution discharge permit. In fact, only 228 of those facilities were required to conduct and report on quarterly monitoring of their discharges.

The report also found that MDE inspection and enforcement over the time period covered in the report was lacking. Although inspection of industrial sites had during the increased from the period of June, 2016 through June, 2017, the report stated that MDE and the Office of the Attorney General had only take enforcement action against 13 facilities subject to an industrial stormwater permit since 2014. MDE provided this response in the article:

 

MDE Secretary Ben Grumbles issued a statement in response to the report, saying that his department is “committed to enforcing regulations that protect the environment and public health, including the management of stormwater runoff from industrial sites.”  He explained that the general permit sets numeric “benchmarks” to determine pollutant concentrations in runoff at the edge of a site, but that exceeding those benchmarks is not in itself a violation of the permit or necessarily show how much pollution will reach the Bay. Rather, he said, the benchmarks are indicators of how well stormwater control measures are working, and they let the MDE staff focus on those sites where pollutant levels exceed the benchmarks, to ensure that they are taking steps to control runoff. He did not address why many sites reporting exceedances had not been inspected.

The report called for increased MDE funding by Governor Larry Hogan and the Maryland General Assembly for the hiring and training of inspectors, stronger industrial stormwater permit requirements, industrial sites to monitor their stormwater runoff, and “deterrence-based enforcement” that targets neighborhoods with a concentration of violators.

Report on Toxic Runoff from Maryland Industry (CPR & EIP)

Center for Progressive Reform Website

Environmental Integrity Project Website

Delegate Dana Stein: Maryland Should Join US Climate Alliance

In a Baltimore Sun op-ed (2017-11-22), Maryland Delegate and House Environment and Transportation Committee Vice Chair Dana Stein argued that in light of President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, Maryland should join the U.S. Climate Alliance. The Alliance is a coalition of states working to implement the Paris Accord locally. The Accord requires signing nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in order to combat climate change.

Stein noted that at the time of Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Accord, only two other nations were not participating – Nicaragua and Syria. Since then, Nicaragua has signed and Syria has announced its intention to sign. Stein also cited a recent reported by scientists from 13 federal agencies which concluded human activity is the dominant reason for climate change. From the op-ed:

Today, the U.S. Climate Alliance comprises a bipartisan group of 14 states — including Virginia, Delaware, New York and Connecticut — and Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, Maryland is not among them. This, despite the fact that the county executives of Baltimore County and Prince George’s County, the mayor of Baltimore, and several Maryland university presidents have committed to achieving the goals of the Paris accord.

 

Caroline County Hosts Public Session on Solar Energy Siting

MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp was part of a panel that responded to public questions on the siting of large solar facilities at a Caroline County Public Information Session on November 28, 2017. The County held the well-attended session to address general public concerns and questions related to utility scale solar. Currently, the County is in the midst of considering a proposed zoning ordinance for solar facilities.

Besides Knapp, other panelists included representatives from the solar development industry, Maryland Public Service Commission, Maryland Power Plant Research Program, and the Caroline County planning and legal departments. The County Commissioners were also in attendance.

Knapp briefly discussed legislation ( HB 1350) passed during the 2017 Session that gave local governments a greater voice in where utility scale solar facilities should be located within their boundaries. The legislation was a MACo Legislative Initiative. Knapp noted that local authority was not absolute and that the PSC retained the right to preempt local government decisions. Knapp also covered factors that a local government should consider when developing a solar ordinance in order to minimize the likelihood of a PSC preemption and discussed how other counties have addressed solar siting.

Audience members questioned the solar application and approval process at both the state and local levels, how income and property taxes are managed for solar projects, the potential economic benefits and drawbacks of solar projects, actions taken by other counties regarding solar projects, vegetation and setback requirements, how grid capacity works, and who is responsible for dismantling a solar project that has reached the end of its useful life.

Earlier in 2017, the Caroline County Commissioners enacted a 6-month moratorium on utility scale solar development in the County while developing a new zoning ordinance that would cover the siting solar facilities. The moratorium was extended an additional two months until December 31 to allow extra time to finalize the ordinance. The Commissioners plan to formally discuss and potentially take action on the proposed ordinance  in December.

The public information session was held in Denton, Maryland, and ran from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm.

Public Information Session Agenda

MACo Solar Presentation

HB 1350 of 2017

Utility Scale Solar Energy Coalition (USSEC) of Maryland Handout

Hear more about land use issues, including climate change and the pending State Development Plan, at the 2017 MACo Winter Conference, December 6-8, at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Hotel in Cambridge, Maryland.

Learn more about MACo’s 2017 Winter Conference: