Future May be Bright for Renewable Energy Legislation

Maryland Matters article (2018-02-05) postulated that the future appears bright for the passage of legislation that would increase the State’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) and create incentives for clean energy jobs.

“This is big news,” said Jamie DeMarco, campaign co-manager for the Maryland Clean Energy Jobs Initiative. “This is a ‘this-year’ game now.” …

More than 650 groups have already endorsed the clean energy measure. And with 24 senators and 73 delegates signed up to be co-sponsors so far, advocates now believe there is a chance of passing the legislation this year. …

There are no GOP co-sponsors so far, but Jamie DeMarco said he is confident that some Republican lawmakers will support the measure.

SB 732, sponsored by Senator Brian Feldman, would increase the RPS from the current 25 percent renewable goal by 2020 to a 50 percent renewable goal by 2030. The bill also includes provisions for offshore wind, incentives for green energy jobs, a study on electricity rate impacts, and a phasing out of preferences for waste to energy and waste-derived fuel technologies. The bill is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Finance Committee on March 6. Delegate William Frick is expected to introduce the cross-file in the House of Delegates.

HB 878, sponsored by Delegate Shane Robinson, would taken an even more aggressive stance, setting a 100% renewable energy goal by 2035.

The article noted that the Governor Larry Hogan Administration is reviewing the legislation but has not yet taken a position.

Useful Links

SB 732 of 2018

HB 878 of 2018

“A Better Maryland” Arrives in Kent County

Kent County News article (2018-02-02) reported on the recent Maryland Department of Planning (MDP) listening session in Kent County to hear feedback about the new State Development Plan, “A Better Maryland.” The article noted that the plan will be developed in three phases and be finalized in June of 2019. Currently MDP is in a listening and information gathering phase.

The article noted that Kent County residents were able to use their cell phones to respond to questions and send live feedback via text messages. Responses were displayed in real time.

“We want involvement in this process from beginning to end, by as many people as we can possibly get,” [MDP local assistance and training manager Joe] Griffiths said.

The first question, “In one word, what is your community’s greatest strength?” received the largest number of votes for agriculture, while heritage and community were also discussed. …

Another question asked of residents was, “What factor is most important for a high quality of life in your community?” The largest percentage of responses dealt with open space and the environment.

The article noted that the top two answers for the question about what the state development plan should address was agriculture and transportation. Residents also offered their thoughts about local heritage, jobs, diversity, education, and a third Chesapeake Bay bridge crossing.

The Kent County Commissioners also offered their thoughts on what the state should be focusing on as part of “A Better Maryland:”

 

“I think the general sentiment is, cliche, ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,’” [Commissioner William] Pickrum said. “Most of the residents here are very happy with the way the county is.” …

Commissioner Bill Short said he felt differently about the infrastructure and economic development of Kent County. He hoped that state leadership or state financial aide could help the county grow. …

Commissioner Ron Fithian said the marina industry in Kent County is a big business and some state environmental regulations on marinas can become obstacles for those businesses.

Useful Links

A Better Maryland Webpage

A Better Maryland Event Calendar

A Better Maryland Survey Page

Better Maryland Interactive Rackcard

Bay Journal Op-Ed: Say “No” to Nutrient Credit Trading

In a Bay Journal op-ed (2018-01-31), Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) Director of Communications Tom Pelton questioned whether nutrient pollution trading was hurting the Chesapeake’s key waterways. Virginia and Pennsylvania have nutrient credit trading programs in place. Maryland is currently considering its own set of nutrient trading regulations. [Note: MACo supports the general concept of having a nutrient credit trading program as another “tool in the toolbox” to help meet local water quality goals. However, nutrient credit trading is not a “magic bullet” that can single-handedly solve all local water pollution issues.]

Pelton argued that a 2017 EIP report, Sewage & Wastewater Plants in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, shows 21 wastewater treatment plants in the Bay watershed are in violation for discharging excessive nitrogen and phosphorus into waterways like the Monocacy and Shenandoah rivers. The report alleged that nutrient credit trading actually makes these violations worse. From the article:

More broadly, the report discusses the problem of local pollution “hot spots” caused by pollution trading systems in Virginia and Pennsylvania, and the threat of a similar scheme proposed in Maryland. …

But here’s what the EIP’s research found that was most troubling: In Virginia and Pennsylvania, far more wastewater plants exceeded their permit limits than in Maryland. But Virginia and Pennsylvania judged almost none of these plants to be in violation of the law because these states engage in systems of “pollution trading.” Trading allows polluters to essentially buy their way out of permit limits (and therefore, legal jeopardy for excessive dumping) by sending money — through the purchase of pollution credits — to other plants or facilities that pollute less. …

The bottom line is that the Chesapeake region’s historic waterways like the Shenandoah and Monocacy rivers deserve better protections than they are receiving today. And the answer is stronger enforcement of pollution limits for individual plants, not trading schemes that blur the lines between legal and illegal waste dumping.

EIP Website

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of Nutrient Credit Trading

Recycling Programs Struggle In Harsh Marketplace

Delmarva Now article (2018-01-31) explored the challenges Delaware’s recycling program has been going through based on recent restrictions China has placed on imported recycled waste, a very weak United States recyclable commodities market, and low oil prices providing for cheap new plastic. These challenges are being felt by many local government recycling programs throughout the US and has forced some jurisdictions to cut back on recycling or send potentially recyclable waste to landfills. From the article:

California has, in the past two years, sent over two billion soda cans to landfills – after the state refunded a nickel per container deposit. The state generates about 8 billion cans annually. …

In Washington, D.C., for example, the city last year paid a waste firm nearly $1.4 million to accept recyclables collected at residential curbsides.

By contrast, in 2011, the city actually made $550,000 from its recycling program. …

The bottom line in 2018: Collecting and processing recyclable materials by local governments has gone from a revenue producer to a significant cost.

The article noted an analysis of Delaware’s waste stream found that aluminum is the most valuable commodity, followed by ferrous metals (iron and steel), plastic, cardboard and paper, and finally glass (which has almost no value). The article stated that Santa Fe, New Mexico, has joined with other cities in no longer recycling glass.

The article also discussed issues of material contamination, food waste recycling, and waste diversion.

Governor’s FY 2019 Budget Includes $8 Million for Garrett County Parks Projects

A Garrett County Republican article (2018-02-01) reported that Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has included more than $8 million in his FY 2019 budget for state and local park projects in Garrett County. This included $33,000 funding for upgrades to the Friendsville Community Park and $20,000 in funding for Town Park West in Accident. The funding would be provided through the Community Parks and Playgrounds Program.  From the article:

“We are very grateful and appreciative to Gov. Hogan for proposing to fully fund our request, which includes these very worthwhile projects in our community park,” [Friendsville Mayor Spencer Schlosnagle] said. “We take great pride in our park, as it is very beneficial to the many people and groups around the town and the tri-state area who visit and enjoy its many outdoor activities.”

The article also listed the funding proposed for various State parks located in Garrett County that totals $8.03 million.

MACo Raises Concerns About Well-Intentioned PIA Bill

MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp testified in opposition to SB 167 before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on January 25, 2018. The bill, sponsored by Senator Brian Feldman, would prohibit a governmental unit from filing suit against a person who has requested to inspect a record under the Maryland Public Information Act (PIA).

In his testimony, Feldman cited instances in other states where record custodians preemptively sued a PIA records requestor upon receiving a request. Political blogger Ryan Miner also testified in support of the bill.

Knapp argued in his testimony that the bill was unnecessary and caused several additional consequences to existing PIA law. From MACo’s testimony:

To the best of MACo’s knowledge, no state agency, county, or municipality has ever filed a suit in Maryland against a records requestor as an immediate response to a PIA request. Such an action is simply not contemplated by county record custodians.

The Office of the Attorney General recently released a comprehensive report on the PIA after a thorough 2-year process that included surveying both record requestors and custodians and allowing public comment. Despite comprehensively reviewing requestor and custodian interactions, the issue of preemptive lawsuits against requestors was never raised. See Final Report of the Office of the Attorney General on the Implementation of the Public Information Act (December 2017). The issue does not exist in Maryland and if it ever did become an issue, MACo would work with all involved stakeholders to remedy the situation.

The bill’s language would also create several additional consequences for the PIA. Maryland’s PIA law is designed to ensure the release of records that are in the public interest without unduly burdening a records requestor. There are numerous mechanisms in place to ensure this result, including: a Public Access Ombudsman, the Public Information Act Compliance Board, administrative appeals, and finally the courts. However, these mechanisms are also designed to protect custodians from abusive or bad faith requests and allow them to keep certain information confidential where required by law.

There are occasionally situations where a custodian needs to bring suit to resolve a request that may involve confidential information where the custodian would be legally liable if the information was to be released or to determine whether a request is abusive in nature (such as where a requestor makes numerous small records requests instead of one large request to try to avoid paying reasonable research costs). SB 167 removes this needed balance.

The bill’s vague language may also override existing PIA law that allows a custodian to temporarily deny access to records while seeking a court determination to determine if the release of the record would cause substantial injury to the public interest. Finally, a clever plaintiff could take advantage of the bill’s language to potentially stave off a lawsuit by a government by filing a PIA request for the relevant information and then claiming that any subsequent government lawsuit is based on the PIA request, rather than the truly central matter.

Committee Chair Robert (Bobby) Zirkin noted that the Office of the Attorney General had submitted a letter of concern that raised many of the same issues cited in the MACo testimony.

The cross-file of SB 167 is HB 387, which is scheduled for a hearing before the House Health and Government Operations Committee on February 8.

 

Climate Change, Growth & Conowingo Dam Challenge 2025 Bay Restoration Goals

Bay Journal article (2018-01-24) explored the three biggest challenges facing Maryland in meeting the 2025 nutrient and sediment reduction goals under the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load: (1) growth; (2) climate change; and (3) the Conowingo Dam. A draft number representing the combined nitrogen generated by these three factors could offset much of the existing nitrogen gains made since 2010. While these factors pose hurdles for all Bay watershed states, Pennsylvania faces the largest shortfall. The article noted that the Bay Program will likely have states address these factors as part of their Phase III Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) but not necessarily require them to fully implement them by 2025.

Conowingo Dam

The Conowingo Dam has lost its ability to trap nutrients that flow down the Susquehanna River. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan is reviewing proposals to dredge some of the sediment in the Dam’s reservoir, restoring some of its nutrient capturing potential. However, that plan is still in its preliminary stages.

State officials at the December [Bay Commission] meeting agreed to develop a plan for additional nutrient reductions to offset the impact of Conowingo, but they did not commit to fully implementing it by 2025.

Climate Change

The article noted that climate change posed a significant challenge to Bay restoration efforts as the original pollution reduction targets were based on steady climate conditions from the 1990s to 2025. However, state officials were unprepared for climate change numbers added an estimated 4% more nitrogen to the target loads. The changing precipitation rates could also reduce the effectiveness of some stormwater best management practices.

After extensive debate, officials agreed that their watershed implementation plans would generally describe how the states will address nutrient loads from climate change, but delayed quantifying the needed amount of reductions until 2021.

Delaying the inclusion of numeric goals was intended to give scientists more time to refine their estimates and to identify which nutrient control practices are most likely to withstand changing climate conditions.

Growth

The article stated that growth is projected to add an additional 4 million pounds of nitrogen and 154,000 pounds of phosphorus to the Bay by 2025.

[F]orecasts of growth will be incorporated into the nutrient reduction goals given to each state, which will now account for growth upfront when they write new watershed implementation plans.

The article noted that the growth forecasts will be updated every two years.

 

Local Governments Warming to Green Bonds

Sustainable City Network article (2017-02-17) discussed the increasing use of “green bonds” by states and local governments to build more environmentally friendly and more efficient infrastructure. The article noted that as many states impose green infrastructure mandates or implement Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) for renewable energy, there has been increased pressure on local governments to find alternative forms of financing to fund these types of projects. From the article:

This is where green bonds enter the picture. These debt instruments, constructed precisely to bring capital to sustainable projects – whether that is renewable power, battery storage or climate change adaptation projects – can provide an alternative means for cities to invest in the infrastructure they need to remain economically competitive in a manner that is both environmentally and ecologically sound. …

Even for those municipalities without an immediate, acute focus on climate change, green bonds are seen as a viable financing option. Because green bond investors are spread around the world but the primary beneficiaries of green financings are more concentrated by region (or even by country), some municipalities could appeal to a broader base of investors by issuing green bonds. What’s more, issuers and investors alike could stand to benefit from certain municipal bond tax-exemptions.

The article stated that in the first half of 2017, United States municipalities accounted for a majority of the 101 green bonds issued globally by local governments and states, with a value of roughly $18 billion.

The article also noted that green bonding in the United States lags behind China and Europe due to the lack of a cohesive policy for carbon mitigation and adaptation and clear regulations for green bond practices. However, the article believed green bonding will continue to play an increasingly important role over the next few years at the local government level:

So, with a stricter federal policy on climate change unlikely to materialize any time soon, it will be down to states, cities and corporations to drive future green bond growth – with much of the investment for green projects coming from investor-owned and public utilities to meet new standards.

Septic System Legislation Introduced by Governor, Legislators

Both Governor Larry Hogan and Delegate Stephen Lafferty have introduced legislation during the 2018 Session addressing septic systems and the use of best available nitrogen removal technology (BAT). The use of BAT septic systems was a major issue during the 2017 Session. Here is a quick summary of both bills:

Septic Stewardship Act of 2018

HB 361/SB 314 is an Administration bill and includes several components relating to BAT septic systems and the Bay Restoration Fund (BRF). Both versions have numerous Republican legislators as co-sponsors. The bill has three primary parts:

  1. The bill exempts a septic system owner from paying the BRF fee if: (1) the owner has a BAT system; and (2) the owner did not receive a State or federal grant or income tax subtraction modification for installing the BAT system. This new language is analogous to existing law that provides an exemption for users of wastewater facilities operating at enhanced nutrient removal level or better.
  2. The bill alters how the money going into the BRF septic system/cover crop account is divided. Currently, 60% of the funds going into the account goes towards septic systems (including BAT upgrades and connections to wastewater treatment plants) and 40% goes to the Maryland Agriculture Water Quality Cost Share Program within the Department of Agriculture for cover crop activities. The bill would change that distribution to 50% for septics and 50% for cover crops.
  3. The bill would allow BRF septic system money to be used by eligible homeowners for the reasonable cost of pumping out a septic system once every 5 years. In order to be eligible, the homeowner must reside in a local jurisdiction that has developed a “septic stewardship plan.” The plan must include provisions to ensure that septic systems are properly operated and maintained, including being subject to routine pump-outs and inspections.

Sale or Transfer of Home Within the Critical Area

HB 458 is a bill sponsored by Delegate Stephen Lafferty and would require that a home that is on a septic system located within the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coast Bays Critical Area must have a BAT system or be upgraded to a BAT septic system before the home is sold or transferred.

Other Possible Legislation

It is still possible that other legislation affecting septic systems could be introduced. One potential idea that has been discussed would require the use of BAT septic systems within 1,000 feet of any impaired waterway or stream.

 

Secretary Rahn Talks Transportation to Southern Maryland Tri-County Council

Members of the Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland heard about state and local transportation initiatives from Maryland Secretary of Transportation Pete Rahn at the Council’s annual meeting and dinner in Annapolis on January 25, 2018. Governor Larry Hogan also dropped by for the Council’s pre-meeting social reception.

Rahn opened his remarks by discussing his agricultural experiences on his wife’s family cattle ranch in New Mexico. He then focused on statewide transportation issues.

“Statewide, we are attempting to address congestion that we know within the state is impacting people’s quality of life,” Rahn stated, “We have a problem getting around.” Rahn noted that congestion limited the attractiveness to business and offered some of the projects the Department of Transportation was working on to address the problem, including:

  • Entering into public-private partnerships to create express toll lanes;
  • Enhancing the 695 and 495 beltways and adjacent feeder roads; and
  • Creating a “smart” linked traffic signal system to better manage traffic through heavily traveled corridors.
Secretary Rahn at Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland

Rahn noted that each “smart” intersection would cost around $1 million, far less than traditional traffic flow improvements like overpasses. Rahn stated Indian Head Highway will be one of the first areas to be upgraded with the new technology.

Rahn also stressed the importance of making safety improvements statewide. He explained the 4 “e’s” of highway safety: (1) engineering; (2) education; (3) enforcement; and (4) emergency medical services.

Rahn also discussed the MDOT’s legislative package, which includes: (1) increased penalties for drunk drivers; (2) altering identification standards for driver license applications and renewals; (3) issuance of permanent rather than annual disability placards; and (4) aligning Maryland law with federal law regarding auto transporters.

Finally, Rahn discussed to key Southern Maryland transportation initiatives: the Harry Nice Bridge (which connects Maryland and Virginia) and the Thomas Johnson Bridge (which connects Calvert and St. Mary’s Counties). Rahn stated that the State was on track to enter the design/build phase for a new Nice Bridge in late 2018. Rahn noted the significant cooperation from Virginia, including Virginia’s agreement to provide right of ways and pay for connections on the Virginia side of the bridge. Rahn believed a draft design would be selected in early 2019, with construction beginning in 2020 and the new bridge being open to traffic in 2023. Regarding the Thomas Johnson Bridge, Rahn stated that a $1 million economic value study will begin later this year to determine how to best address the issue.