Registration Now Open: Maryland Land Conservation Conference – June 8

Registration is now open for the 2017 Maryland Land Conservation Conference that will be held June 8 at Pearlstone Conference and Retreat Center in Reisterstown, MD. This year’s conference theme is Thinking Broadly & Engaging Community – Strengthening Land Trusts for the Next Century and will feature diverse workshops and presentations that address the challenges and opportunities facing Maryland’s conservation community.

Early bird registration is $70 through Noon on April 17th. Click here to register.

The conference provides opportunity for land trusts, conservancies, local and state government agencies, heritage organizations, members of the agricultural community and other partners to network and exchange new ideas about the future of land conservation in the region. Registration includes continental breakfast, lunch, refreshments and educational sessions.

A copy of the preliminary conference program will be available soon.

Join MET for a full day of educational workshops, innovative discussions and peer-to-peer networking. For registration questions or more information about the 2017 Maryland Land Conservation Conference, please contact Tracy at metoutreach.dnr@maryland.gov.

CBF Cites Value of Trees in Forest Conservation Act Op-Ed

In a Washington Post op-ed (2017-03-21), Chesapeake Bay Foundation Executive Director Alison Prost argues for legislation (HB 599 / SB 365) that would create significant new replanting and fee in lieu requirements under the Maryland Forest Conservation Act (FCA). MACo and the Maryland Municipal League are opposed to the bill, noting that Maryland’s total forest and tree canopy management efforts need to be considered and that the organizations are open to a balanced task force regarding the issue. In the op-ed, Prost focuses solely on the FCA and discusses the benefits trees provide. From the op-ed:

The FCA is not getting the job done. Too little forest is being conserved in Maryland. …

Developers are trying to block the legislation, claiming replanting would increase costs. Some local governments have joined in that lament.

But those same local governments have far more to lose from doing nothing. Forests provide counties billions of dollars in ecosystem services. The forests of Prince George’s County, for instance, remove 4.3 billion gallons of polluted runoff a year. If taxpayers had to provide those services, the cost would be $12.8 billion, according to a 2015 study by the Low Impact Development Center in Beltsville. The same forests also remove 5,100 metric tons of airborne pollutants, a service worth $21 million.

And some benefits cannot be adequately measured in dollars. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service says one acre of forest provides oxygen for 18 people for one day. What is the economic value of that? What is the cost of Maryland losing an average of at least 1,800 acres of forests a year?

It’s bad economics to allow developers to cut so much forest and eliminate so much of the public benefit of those trees without adequate compensation. It’s bad health and environmental policy.

Useful Links
HB 599 / SB 365 of 2017

 

 

MACo: Give Counties Greater Role in Energy Siting

MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp testified in favor of Senate Bill 851, “Public Service Commission – Application for Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity – Consistency With Comprehensive Plan” on March 14, 2017. The bill was heard before the Senate Finance Committee and was sponsored by Senator Justin Ready.

This bill would require the Public Service Commission (PSC), upon receipt of an application for a certificate of public convenience and necessity for a generation station or high voltage overhead transmission line, to send the application materials to each local government where the project will be located so that the local government could determine whether the application is consistent with its comprehensive plan. Each local government must review the application materials and determine whether the application is consistent with its comprehensive plan per § 1-303 of the Land Use Article. If the local government determines that the application is not consistent, then the PSC may not hold a public hearing or move forward on the application.

MACo’s testimony states,

Maryland is nationally recognized as a state that embraces robust long-term comprehensive planning and Smart Growth. Counties set development plans; agriculture, open space, and historic preservation goals; and environmental protection targets within their comprehensive plans and related planning tools. These plans and goals are all designed to properly manage long-term growth and preserve the unique identities of Maryland’s diverse communities. However, energy generation facilities are not subject to the same land use planning requirements.

Instead, energy facility siting is based on decades-old law that envisions small and relatively compact facilities like coal, oil, and nuclear plants as primary energy generators. But increasingly, energy generation is becoming more “dispersed” as technologies like solar, wind, biomass, and gasification are now poised to be primary generators. These technologies bring many advantages but also some drawbacks – including a need for significant amounts of open space.

According to the Nature Conservancy, energy development now consumes more open space in the United States than residential, commercial, and industrial development. Maryland is seeing a “gold rush” as energy companies are optioning thousands of acres, regardless of local government plans and needs. Over 3,000 acres are already in the development pipeline for large-scale solar facilities alone. SB 851 would solidify a needed local government voice in how the state’s energy landscape develops.

The cross-file to the bill, HB 1350, sponsored by Delegate April Rose, was heard by the House Economic Matters Committee on March 9, 2017. Click here for previous Conduit Street coverage.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

MACo Advocates for Local Zoning Authority of Large Energy Generation Facilities

MACo Legal and Policy Counsel, Les Knapp, testified in favor of Senate Bill 931, “Local Jurisdictions – Zoning Authority – Generating Stations” on March 14, 2017 in front of the Senate Finance Committee. Senators John Astle and Stephen Hershey sponsored the bill.

SB 931 would give a voice to the communities and local governments in the zoning process for properly siting large-scale energy generation facilities and would strike a reasonable balance between long-term land use planning and the need for utility-scale energy generation facilities.

MACo’s testimony states,

SB 931 would allow counties and municipalities with zoning authority to enact binding zoning for utility-scale energy generation facilities that need to obtain a certificate of public convenience and necessity from the Public Service Commission (PSC) or have a generation capacity of at least 2 megawatts. Community or small-scale projects are unaffected.

In order for a local government’s zoning to be binding, the local government must engage in an “enhanced” zoning process for each energy generation technology it wishes to zone for – including meeting with appropriate energy developer representatives and incorporating factors identified by the PSC as important to that energy generation technology. For the zoning to be binding, a local government must generate viable project sites and cannot simply ban a particular technology.

Currently, there is a disconnect between laws governing the siting of energy facilities and laws governing land use planning.

SB 931 would solidify a needed local government voice in how the state’s energy landscape develops. Despite several recent decisions by the PSC that found in favor of local governments over proposed energy sites in Kent and Allegany Counties, the decisions made it very clear that the PSC retains its preemption authority over local zoning and that the decisions were based on the specific facts of the case. The finding could be different in the next case. A systemic solution is still needed.

SB 931 attempts to provide a solution by requiring local governments that wish to enact binding zoning to ensure they generate viable project sites while still giving the PSC the authority to override local zoning for grid integrity issues. The bill also moves local participation toward the start of the siting process, which will help provide more certainty both to citizens and energy developers. Otherwise, it is likely that contentious siting battles and costly litigation will continue.

Joining Mr. Knapp in testifying on SB 931 were:

  • Mary Kay Verdery (Talbot County)
  • Mike Pullen (Talbot County)
  • Bill Jorch (Maryland Municipal League)
  • Candace Donoho (Maryland Municipal League)

The cross-file to the bill, HB 1592, is currently in the House Rules and Executive Nominations Committee.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

CBC Releases 2016 Annual Report – Program Open Space, Conowingo Dam Among Key Issues

The Chesapeake Bay Commission (CBC) released its annul report for 2016. The report offered a short appraisal of the CBC’s work on Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts in each member state, an assessment on overall Bay restoration progress, and a critique of ongoing challenges. Program Open Space (POS) was highlighted as a key issue in Maryland while the Susquehanna River/Conowingo Dam nutrient and sediment trapping problem was noted as a key challenge.

The CBC is a partnership between Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia to advise and address issues that affect the entirety of the Chesapeake Bay. Members include legislators and cabinet secretaries from each state, as well as a United States Navy liaison. Each member state is represented among three leadership positions – including a chair and two vice-chairs. Maryland Senator Thomas McLain “Mac” Middleton served as the CBC Chair for 2016. For 2017, Maryland Delegate Tawanna Gaines is serving in a Vice-Chair capacity.

From the report’s summary of CBC activities in Maryland:

With Maryland on-track to meet its 2017 water quality goals under the TMDL, Commission members focused on maintaining that progress by supporting land conservation. Maryland’s Program Open Space (POS) preserves natural areas, protects historic places, and develops parks. Full funding of POS and other land conservation programs is critical to achieving the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement goal to preserve an additional 2 million acres by 2025. Unfortunately, recent state budgets have diverted funding from POS to Maryland’s General Fund.

After working with a broad group of stakeholders, Commission members effectively sponsored legislation to repay $90 million in previous POS diversions. The bill also requires repayment of any future diversions.

In other budget-related matters, the Commission worked to fully fund the state Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund, which supports agricultural and other nonpoint source best management practices, a first in the Fund’s ten-year history.

Despite noting favorable progress on Bay restoration efforts, including having no anoxic (without oxygen) Bay areas for the first time in 30 years, the report stressed that ongoing challenges continue to exist, including population growth, agricultural pollution, and climate change. Also noted was the disappearing capacity of various Susquehanna River dams to trap nutrients and sediment:

But perhaps the largest threat lies in the nutrients and sediment accumulating behind three large hydroelectric dams on the Lower Susquehanna. Each dam has created a giant settling pond upstream, storing sediment and associated nutrients. Over decades, the reservoir behind each dam has filled with this material, first at Safe Harbor, then Holtwood and now Conowingo.

The loss of trapping capacity at Conowingo, the final dam in the sequence, has caused the entire Lower Susquehanna to be in a state of “dynamic equilibrium.” The loads-in now equal the loads-out.

The sediment and phosphorus that previously were trapped are now flowing downstream unimpeded. Therefore, despite reductions upstream, the loads at Conowingo have increased, at least temporarily.

So long as the inputs upstream of the Conowingo Dam continue to decrease, the Susquehanna’s loads to the Bay will ultimately decrease. But this will take expanded efforts, new funding and time. In the meantime, who will take responsibility for the pollutant loads no longer captured by the dam?

Useful Links

CBC 2016 annual report

CBC Website

Senator Middleton Webpage

Delegate Gaines Webpage

MACo Requests Removal of Local Referenda Mandate on Fracking

MACo Legal & Policy Counsel Les Knapp offered amendments to legislation (SB 862) that would require all local governments to hold a referendum on whether natural gas hydraulic fracturing (fracking) should be allowed within the jurisdiction should the State ever permit fracking to occur in Maryland. A local government may only allow fracking if the voters support it, but may prohibit fracking or enact stricter requirements regardless of the referendum’s outcome.

The bill also extends the existing moratorium on fracking until October 1, 2019, and requires the Maryland Department of the Environment to repeal its current fracking regulations and adopt new regulations based on the best practices and protections adopted by other states and specified fracking studies. Senator Joan Carter Conway sponsored the bill. Knapp requested that the local referenda requirement be removed from the bill. From MACo’s testimony:

MACo’s concern with SB 862 is not about whether to allow or ban hydraulic fracturing in the state. Rather, it is about the idea of ceding the decision-making authority of lawfully elected local officials to a populist decision. Our government is a representative democracy and local officials were elected to make difficult policy decisions – they are held accountable by their voters when they fail to meet their citizens’ expectations.

If fracking is permitted in Maryland, MACo believes each local government should have the authority to decide for itself whether to authorize the activity, impose stricter requirements on the activity, or ban it altogether. Forcing the question to a referendum undermines both the authority and proper role of local officials, whose responsibility it is to understand the potentially long-reaching effects of such legislation on their entire communities.

Additionally, the referendum requirement establishes a troubling precedent that could then be applied to other challenging policy issues. Ultimately, the State could begin requiring referenda on any contentious or challenging issue, undermining local decisions and authority altogether.

The Sierra Club of Maryland also testified in support of MACo’s proposed amendments.

Useful Links

SB 862 of 2017

MACo Testimony on SSB 862

Senator Conway Webpage

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

 

MACo Advocates For Greater Local Role in Energy Siting

MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp testified in favor of House Bill 1350, “Public Service Commission – Application for Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity – Consistency With Comprehensive Plan” on March 9, 2017. The bill was heard before the House Economic Matters Committee and was sponsored by Delegate April Rose. This bill would require the Public Service Commission (PSC), upon receipt of an application for a certificate of public convenience and necessity for a generation station or high voltage overhead transmission line, to send the application materials to each local government where the project will be located so that the local government could determine whether the application is consistent with its comprehensive plan. Each local government must review the application materials and determine whether the application is consistent with its comprehensive plan per § 1-303 of the Land Use Article. If the local government determines that the application is not consistent, then the PSC may not hold a public hearing or move forward on the application.

MACo’s testimony states,

Maryland is nationally recognized as a state that embraces robust long-term comprehensive planning and Smart Growth. Counties set development plans; agriculture, open space, and historic preservation goals; and environmental protection targets within their comprehensive plans and related planning tools. These plans and goals are all designed to properly manage long-term growth and preserve the unique identities of Maryland’s diverse communities. However, energy generation facilities are not subject to the same land use planning requirements.

Instead, energy facility siting is based on decades-old law that envisions small and relatively compact facilities like coal, oil, and nuclear plants as primary energy generators. But increasingly, energy generation is becoming more “dispersed” as technologies like solar, wind, biomass, and gasification are now poised to be primary generators. These technologies bring many advantages but also some drawbacks – including a need for significant amounts of open space.

According to the Nature Conservancy, energy development now consumes more open space in the United States than residential, commercial, and industrial development. Maryland is seeing a “gold rush” as energy companies are optioning thousands of acres, regardless of local government plans and needs. Over 3,000 acres are already in the development pipeline for large-scale solar facilities alone. HB 1350 would solidify a needed local government voice in how the state’s energy landscape develops.

Carroll County and 1000 Friends of Maryland also testified in support of the bill. First Solar, the American Wind Energy Association, the Sierra Club, and the PSC testified in opposition.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

MACo Seeks Amendment to Septic Tier Property Rights Restoration Bill

MACo Policy and Legal Counsel, Les Knapp, sought to amend legislation of House Bill 1355, “Sewerage Systems – Residential Major Subdivisions in Tier III and Tier IV Areas” before the House Environmental and Transportation committee on March 1, 2017. The bill would restore property rights that were extinguished with the passage of the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012 (SB 236), but only if certain land preservation conditions are met. The bill does not create new development rights. The bill was sponsored by Delegate April Rose.

MACo’s testimony states

The bill would provide an alternative under the Tier system to address issues of the loss of development rights in rural areas while not repealing the Tiers. The bill balances the restoration of the taken rights with land protection requirements – and a fair recognition of jurisdictions that have wide portions of un-developable land due to state limitations, development easements, etc. By excluding the creation of new development rights, the bill does not encourage or create growth potential beyond what previously existed before the passage of SB 236 in 2012.

MACo does request an amendment to HB 1355 stating the bill’s tier provisions would only apply in a county where the local governing body has formally adopted the provisions of § 9-206(f)(2) and (3) into a local ordinance. This allows counties the option of whether to utilize the bill’s provisions rather than mandate that all counties be subject to the provisions. It also would empower citizen input into the local public hearing process before any changes occur.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

Promising Pilot Program in Dorchester Turns Chicken Manure Into Energy

A Bay Journal article (2017-02-09) discussed a pilot program in Dorchester County that is turning poultry manure into energy. The disposal of poultry waste has long posed a challenge to the Eastern Shore’s chicken industry. A primary disposal method in the past was to spread the manure on nearby farmland but that practice has resulted in many fields becoming overloaded with phosphorus, which threatens the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay and local waterways.

The pilot program in Dorchester features a $3 million dollar system installed in two poultry houses on Brad Murphy’s “Double Trouble” farm by the Irish firm BHSL. The State committed $1 million to the project. From the article:

The [BHSL] system curtails the ammonia fumes that not only make poultry houses stink, but compromise the birds’ health. It also can give farmers a financial boost — they can avoid paying for propane to heat the houses, and even make a little income from selling excess energy generated by the system that’s fed into the electric grid.

Maryland’s Department of Agriculture has committed nearly $3.8 million to try out a variety of manure-to-energy projects, $1 million of which went to the Double Trouble project. It’s the largest investment made by any Chesapeake Bay watershed state toward finding alternative uses for the massive amounts of animal waste generated by poultry, dairy and other livestock farms.

On a visit to the farm Feb. 13, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan praised the Murphys for “leading the way for farmers to improve water quality, increase energy independence, and improve animal waste management to ensure the sustainability of animal agriculture in our state.”

The article explained how manure-to-energy research is being supported by Maryland, nearby states, and the federal government. The article noted that the BHSL system appeared to be one of the more promising technologies for reducing both phosphorus overload in soils and ammonia in air emissions:

 [Because of soil phosphorus build up], manure-to-energy projects have attracted state and federal officials. Virginia and Pennsylvania are also funding similar pilot projects. But the BHSL system is the only one determined by an independent analysis to lower air emissions while also keeping phosphorus out of the water, said Kristen Hughes Evans, executive director of Sustainable Chesapeake. The nonprofit group is coordinating the manure-to-energy initiative for the Bay watershed states. …

In a tightly controlled experiment, two of Murphy’s chicken houses are using traditional propane heat, and the manure the birds produce is cleaned out every six to eight weeks and hauled away to area farms for fertilizer. But in the other two, the poultry litter — a mixture of manure and wood shavings — is kept on site and burned to generate heat and electricity. The University of Maryland is tracking the data. …

In 2011, the Chesapeake Bay Commission sponsored a manure-to-energy summit in Maryland to discuss the potential of new technologies. A representative from BHSL was there, and he later invited members of the tri-state legislative advisory body to see a plant in England. Several Maryland policy-makers made the trip, including Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton.

“It has huge, huge potential,” Middleton, a Charles County Democrat who is the Maryland Senate’s only full-time farmer, said of [BHSL’s] system. “And these are very dedicated people.”

According to the article, the BHSL system generates approximately 1 ton of phosphorus rich ash based on 10 tons of poultry manure. Besides being much easier to transport than the unprocessed manure, the ash has potential as a fertilizer product that can be used elsewhere. The cost of the system does remain a challenge, but the article noted that cost could come down significantly if its components could be manufactured locally instead of overseas.

Useful Links

BHSL Website

Maryland Department of Agriculture Website

You’re Invited: Join Us for Our Weekly Legislative Update Conference Call

Every Friday during the legislative session MACo will host a conference call that will update you on the Maryland General Assembly hot topics and bills that affect local governments. Join the conversation at 3:00 pm each week as MACo explores different topics and hosts guest speakers.

This week’s topic (January 27): Energy Siting

MACo Policy Associate Kevin Kinnally will be joined by MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp to discuss MACo’s 2017 Legislative Initiative regarding the preemption of local zoning for the siting of “dispersed” energy generation facilities- utility-scale facilities that can be located on farmland or open space.

Conference call information: 1.877.850.5007, passcode: 2690043#

We look forward to your participation! Contact Kevin Kinnally for more information.