Senate Committee Kills Governor’s Septic Bill

The Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee gave an unfavorable vote (7-4) on Governor Larry Hogan’s “Septic Stewardship Act of 2018.” The Administration bill, SB 314, made three primary changes to the septic system account under the Bay Restoration Fund (BRF).

First, the bill exempted a septic system owner from paying the BRF if: (1) the owner has a best available technology nitrogen removal (BAT) septic system; and (2) the owner did not receive a state or federal grant or income tax subtraction modification for installing the BAT septic system.

Second, the bill would allow BRF septic system account 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.”

Finally, the bill would alter the funding distribution ratios between septic systems and cover crops. The bill would change the current 60% percent septic system/40% cover crop allocation to a 50/50 split.

As previously reported on Conduit Street, MACo supported SB 314 with an amendment to maintain the current 60/40 allocation, arguing that the BRF septic system account is one of the only State funding sources to address the needs of the septic system sector and should not be reduced.

The cross-file of SB 314 is HB 361. HB 361 is scheduled for a hearing in the House Environment and Transportation Committee on February 23. This may or may not change based on the Senate Committee’s action.

Useful Links

SB 314 of 2018

MACo Testimony on SB 314

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of the Septic Stewardship Act

County Ag Preservation Bill Increases Acquisition Ability, Lessens Administrative Burdens

MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp testified in support of a bill providing greater flexibility to county agricultural preservation programs before the House Environment and Transportation Committee on February 14, 2018. The bill (HB 620) was sponsored by Delegate Eric Luedtke.

HB 620 provides that the Maryland Department of Planning (MDP) and the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation (MALPF) may recertify a county agricultural
preservation program for 5 years, instead of 3 years under current law, if they determine that the county program is consistently effective in the achievement of preservation goals. The bill also
extends from 3 years to 6 years the amount of time that a county may spend agriculture transfer tax revenue before the county must remit the money to the Comptroller.

Knapp noted that the bill provided both administrative benefits as well as increasing the ability of a county program to complete worthy preservation projects. From MACo’s testimony:

Assembling projects for preservation under a county agricultural program can be both complex and time-consuming, especially when the project involves multiple properties. Extending the
current remittance time period from 3 to 6 years allows counties additional time to manage more complex projects or accumulate enough funds to afford a purchase that would otherwise be
beyond the local program’s reach. As the bill’s fiscal note states, there is minimal impact on MALPF.

Likewise, extending the time period from 3 years to 5 years for the recertification of county agricultural preservation programs that have proven to be consistently effective lessens an
administrative burden on the county programs, as well as MDP and MALPF. It can also limit uncertainty for well-performing programs regarding the recertification process. The bill does not
alter any recertification criteria and MDP and MALPF may still choose to recertify a program for just 3 years.

The Maryland Farm Bureau, Partners for Open Space, and the Montgomery Agricultural Land Preservation Advisory Board also testified in support of the bill. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation offered an amendment that would allow MDP and MALPF to review a program that has been granted a 5-year recertification after just 3 years if there is a material change in the county’s land use ordinance that would increase development in targeted agricultural preservation areas. No one testified in opposition to the bill.

There is no Senate cross-file to HB 620.

Useful Links

HB 620 of 2018

MACo Testimony on HB 620

Delegate Eric Luedtke Webpage

MACo Resists Septic Bill’s Proposed Funding Shift to Cover Crops

MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp offered amendments to an Administration bill on septic systems before the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee on February 13, 2018. The amendments would cancel a proposed shift in funding from the septic system account within the Bay Restoration Fund (BRF) to the cover crop program.

In MACo’s written testimony, Knapp briefly addressed each of the bill’s components:

SB 314 has three primary components. First, the bill exempts a septic system owner from paying the BRF if: (1) the owner has a [best available technology nitrogen removal (BAT)] septic system; and (2) the owner did not receive a state or federal grant or income tax subtraction modification for installing the BAT septic system. The exemption could apply to about 3,800 BAT systems, resulting in an annual decrease of $230,000 in BRF fees. MACo has no issue with this provision given the relatively small fiscal cost and equity principles involved.

Second, the bill would allow BRF septic system account 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.” MACo supports the potential flexibility this voluntary program could provide. It is MACo’s understanding that counties would be able to continue to prioritize connecting failing septic systems to public sewer and upgrading systems to BAT over pumpouts.

Finally, the bill would alter the funding distribution ratios between septic systems and cover crops. The bill would change the current 60% septic system/40% cover crop allocation to a 50/50 split. MACo is opposed to this change, as it would reduce available BRF septic system monies by $2.97 million annually. The BRF septic system account is one of the only State funding sources to address the needs of the septic system sector and this funding should not be reduced. Consequently, MACo supports an amendment to delete the bill’s proposed 50/50 split and retain the 60/40 allocation under current law.

Governor Larry Hogan’s Deputy Legislative Officer Mathew Palmer and Maryland Secretary of the Environment Benjamin Grumbles testified in support of the bill. The Maryland Realtor’s Association supported the bill with the same amendment as MACo. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Clean Water Action, and the Maryland Onsite Wastewater Professionals Association (MOWPA) all opposed the bill.

Most members of the Committee did not appear receptive to the bill.

HB 361 is the cross-file of SB 314 and is set to be heard on February 23 by the House Environment and Transportation Committee.

Useful Links

SB 314 of 2018

MACo Testimony on SB 314

Governor Larry Hogan Webpage

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

Forum Explores Economic Benefits of Industrial Hemp in Maryland

A forum held in Annapolis explored legalizing industrial hemp in Maryland to reap the benefits of the plant as an agriculture commodity.

Panelists discussed findings from a report, “The Case for Hemp in Maryland: A Misunderstood Plant Takes Root Again,” and the status of hemp at the federal level and in neighboring states — Virginia and Pennsylvania — that have active industrial hemp programs.

The overarching concern was that Maryland was being economically left behind as more states pursue commercial industrial hemp programs. Among other things the plant can be used as fiber, insulation, clothing, food, fuel, and medicine. As of 2017, at least 34 stated have enacted some sort of hemp legislation and 19 are growing hemp for a growing total of 25,541 acres nationwide.

Hemp remains illegal to grow in Maryland although a bill passed in 2016 authorizes farmers to grow hemp only if and when the federal status of hemp changes.

HB 698 introduced by Delegate Fraser-Hidalgo this session, would create a pilot program authorizing the Department of Agriculture or certain higher education institutions to grow, cultivate, harvest, process, manufacture, transport, market, or sell industrial hemp in Maryland. The forum was sponsored by the Abell Foundation.

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

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.

 

State of the Bay Update: A Mixed Bag for the Chesapeake

The House Environment and Transportation Committee held a briefing on the state of the Chesapeake Bay on January 17, 2018. The “State of the Bay” briefing has become an annual fixture in the Committee. Presenters highlighted the positive progress that is resulting from Bay restoration efforts but also stressed ongoing challenges, including further reducing nitrogen run-off and addressing urban/suburban stormwater runoff, the Conowingo Dam, climate change, and Aligning for Growth.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) Executive Director Alison Prost and Chesapeake Bay Commission Maryland Director Mark Hoffman were the primary presenters, with CBF Maryland Staff Attorney Elaine Lutz joining in to answer several questions posed by Committee members.

Prost noted that based on data through 2016, Bay grass coverage and dissolved oxygen levels were both up and 40% of the Bay’s segments under the Total Maximum Daily Load were meeting water quality standards – a record level. However, Prost noted that meant 60% of the segments were not meeting their TMDL targets and Bay states needed to collectively remove 50 million pounds more nitrogen by 2025 to meet the TMDL goal.

Prost noted that in Maryland, urban/suburban stormwater runoff is now a significant hurdle that must be addressed. Lutz explained that counties subject to Phase I Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) are failing to meet their permit goals. Lutz acknowledged that the time and complexity of completing stormwater remediation projects was playing a significant role in the county shortfall. Lutz noted that CBF was working with both the Maryland Department of the Environment and the affected counties to try to solve the problem before the next round of MS4 permits are issued. Lutz stated that more prescriptive and direct progress goals are needed in the permit while allowing for some local flexibility and that the goals should be based on number of pollutant pounds reduced as opposed to the amount of impervious surface treated. Finally, Lutz said that the new MS4 permits will also include nutrient credit trading.

Regarding septic systems, a chart Prost presented showed that West Virginia was doing better than Maryland in reducing nitrogen pollution from septic systems. Prost explained that in part that was because Maryland set “high and lofty goals” for septic reductions while West Virginia set lower targets and that the portion of West Virginia in the Bay watershed has less population than Maryland. Prost speculated that Maryland may shift some load targets from septic systems to other sectors as the state enters Phase 3 of Bay TMDL. Prost also noted that many counties have focused on hooking groups of failing septics up to public sewer in order to maximize their return on investment.

Hoffman touched on several issues that must be accounted for in the 3rd and final Phase of the Bay TMDL:

  • Conowingo Dam: Hoffman stated that the additional pollution running through the Conowingo Dam from the Susquehanna River will be accounted for in the Phase 3 pollution reduction targets. The pollutants will be addressed through a separate collaborative plan – the additional loads will not just be assigned to Maryland and Pennsylvania.
  • Climate Change: Climate change brings both negatives and positives to Bay restoration efforts. As more research is being conducted, climate change will initially be narrowly incorporated into the Phase 3 Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs). Actual loads based on climate change will be added in 2022-23.
  • Aligning for Growth: The Phase 3 WIPs and Bay Model will incorporate 2025 growth projections based on current zoning. These projections will affect the Phase 3 pollution reduction targets.
  • Funding: Hoffman noted that Bay state funding outstrips federal funding by a 3 to 1 margin but that federal funding remains critical to the success of the Bay TMDL.

Useful Links

Video of E&T Committee State of the Bay Briefing

Maryland Climate Change Commission Highlights Planned 2018 Actions, Local Engagement

The House Environment and Transportation Committee received an update from the Maryland Commission on Climate Change on January 18, 2018. The Commission panel discussed the current and future plans for climate change policies in Maryland. Commission panelists included: (1) Maryland Secretary of the Environment and Commission Chair Benjamin Grumbles; (2) State Treasurer and ex officio Commission member Nancy Kopp; and (3) Town Creek Foundation Executive Director and Commission Co-Chair Stuart Clarke.

Grumbles stated that the Commission is “bi-partisan, collaborative, and science-based.” Grumbles noted that the Commission was in 2007 through executive order and later codified in statute in 2015. The Commission has four working groups: (1) Mitigation; (2) Adaptation and Response; (3) Scientific and Technical; and (4) Education, Communication, and Outreach.

Grumbles stressed the climate change record of the Governor Larry Hogan Administration, including support for the work of the Commission, the recently enhanced power plant emission goals under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), and the Governor’s recent announcement that Marylaad will join the US Climate Alliance. Grumbles also noted that Maryland is on track to reach its current goal of reducing greenhouse gases by 25% by 2025.

Grumbles also provided members of the Committee with the Commission’s annual report and highlighted three of the Commission’s proposed activities for 2018: (1) enhancing the greenhouse gas emissions inventory due in 2018; (2) a healthy soils initiative where the Commission would engage with the agricultural sector to adopt better carbon sequestration practices; and (3) remaining active in a multi-state climate initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. Grumbles also stated that a new Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act plan is due by the end of 2018 that will detail how Maryland can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030. Kopp noted the new plan will include 5-year benchmarks and measurable goals.

Delegate Stephen Lafferty noted that a lot of the Commission’s work requires or involves local governments. Lafferty asked how the Commission was engaging with and assisting local governments. Grumbles responded that the Commission has local government representatives on both the Commission and its working groups, works with local communities on energy and water infrastructure, and regularly presents at MACO and the Maryland Municipal League’s annual conferences.

Lafferty also asked whether any local governments have begun to do climate assessments to gauge climate change impacts on their jurisdictions. Grumbles responded that local leaders are developing strategies for mitigation, adaptation and resiliency, and renewable energy. Some strategies, like the one developed by Ellicott City, involves responding to past or potential future disasters. Kopp added that many counties are addressing the issues through land use and transportation planning. Kopp also suggested that MACo or local government representatives highlight some of the climate planning that local governments are doing.

Committee Chair Kumar Barve stated that utility scale solar is now economically competitive with natural gas and urged the relevant state agencies to consider how to incorporate utility scale solar into land use planning. Barve believed that there is enough space to accommodate large solar facilities without disrupting agriculture, other industries, or forestlands. Grumbles noted that various State agencies are working on this.

Useful Links

Video of E&T Committee Climate Commission Briefing

Maryland Commission on Climate Change Webpage