Climate Change Recommendations Provoke Robust Discussion by Mitigation Working Group

The Mitigation Working Group had a robust but respectful discussion on proposed climate change recommendations at its August 2, 2018, meeting, including proposals that would directly affect county governments. A cap and trade program for carbon emitted from transportation, the full electrification of the state’s school bus feet, mandatory energy efficiency retrofits to existing buildings, upgrading the Forest Conservation Act, and ending the permitting of landfills and moving to zero waste are a few of the recommendations under consideration.

The Working Group is part of the Maryland Commission on Climate Change and is tasked with producing recommendations to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions in the state in order to achieve a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from their 2005 levels by 2030. Maryland is general on track to meet a prior emission reduction goal of 25% by 2025. MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp is the county representative on the Working Group. Prince George’s County Council Member Deni Taveras is MACo’s representative on the Commission.

The proposed recommendations included a draft “straw-man” version prepared by the Maryland Department of the Environment and a series of additional recommendations submitted by various stakeholder groups. The Working Group is seeking consensus on as many recommendations as it can and will then focus on recommendations where there is majority support. The list of Mitigation Working Group recommendations contains numerous proposals that remain under discussion. The following recommendations would directly effect counties:

  • The Commission should urge MDE to include in the 40 by 30 plan a section that is specifically focused on identifying and assessing longer-term greenhouse gas emission reduction strategies. This section should explicitly address steps that can be taken to insure that proposed 40 by 30 programs and strategies are compatible with achieving zero net emissions in the 2050 to 2060 timeframe.

  • The Commission should urge MDE to include in the 40 by 30 plan strategies and programs that will insure that the state meets and accommodates its current EV goals and projections (60,000 EVs by 2020; 300,000 by 2025) with continued vigorous increase after 2025 that is compatible with longterm net zero emissions two to three decades after 2030. As part of this process, we further recommend that the Commission urge MDE to specifically assess the following strategies: setting a goal to fully electrify bus transport in Maryland by 2035, including aggressive targets for the rapid deployment of EV school buses, as well as provisions for low-interest financing.

  • The Commission should urge the General Assembly to implement stricter building code and other energy efficiency upgrades, including the establishment of annual residential and commercial building retrofit targets (e.g. 100% commercial building compliance by 2040), the requirement that all new residential and commercial buildings be carbon neutral by 2030, and an expansion of government and utility supported efficient electric heating and cooling system policies and programs.

  • The Commission should urge the General Assembly to enact, by 2020, a sustainable agricultural land preservation law which permits/facilitates the deployment of joint renewable energy and regenerative agriculture development, in order to simultaneously maximize the reduction and sequestration of carbon emissions while improving soil health.

  • The Commission should urge the General Assembly and the Governor to require net forest and tree canopy gains in Maryland by 2025 through the enactment of various forest management and tree planting programs and initiatives; including a strengthened Forest Conservation Law.

  • The Commission should urge the General Assembly and the Governor to enact, by 2022, more aggressive and explicit compact development and sustainable growth incentive and management programs and regulations.

  • The Commission should urge the General Assembly and the Governor to enact the following zero waste policies: ending the permitting of solid waste landfill capacity by 2019; requiring large producers (more than 2 tons per month) of organic waste to compost or anaerobically digest all of their waste by 2020; and increase state government and local jurisdiction recycling rates to 60% by 2020 and 80% by 2035.

Only the first two recommendations listed above were discussed at the August 2 meeting. Knapp joined with several other Working Group members in objecting to the inclusion of a regional transportation sector carbon emissions cap, noting that the proposal received little discussion or study during the Working Group’s 2018 meetings. Knapp suggested that the proposal be further studied as part of the Working Group’s 2019 agenda. Knapp also expressed concern about the school bus electrification recommendation, noting that the assessment should not be tied to an explicit date and that counties and local boards of education be part of the discussion.

The Working Group’s next meeting will take place on August 30. At that time, the Working Group hopes to finalize its recommendations.

Useful Links

Maryland Commission on Climate Change

Governor Hogan Urges Other States to “Step Up” Bay Restoration Efforts

Several news articles reported on Maryland Governor Larry Hogan’s recent efforts to hold upstream states more accountable for the debris and runoff that flows down the Susquehanna River and through the Conowingo Dam. As previously reported on Conduit Street, the recent heavy rainfalls created a deluge of debris and sediment that washed into the Chesapeake Bay, threatening Bay recovery efforts.

Hogan called for the upstream Bay states to do more at the August 7, 2018, meeting of the Chesapeake Executive Council. (The Council is composed of the executives of all of the Bay watershed states and Hogan is currently the Council’s chair.) Hogan has also continued to push the Conowingo Dam’s owner, Exelon Corp., to also do more to address sediment coming through the dam.

A WTOP 103.5 FM article (2018-08-07) outlined Hogan’s position:

Hogan has been increasingly critical of Maryland’s neighbors to the north over the condition of the Bay watershed. …

“We have done our part,” [Hogan] said, referring to Maryland’s efforts, “but other people need to step up.”

“We have to have the upstream states and the EPA take some responsibility for the stuff that’s pouring down the Susquehanna [River] over the Conowingo [Dam] into the Bay,” he said.

The WTOP article also detailed Hogan’s recent efforts to have Exelon contribute more to Bay restoration efforts. Maryland must provide a certification before Exelon can be re-licensed to continue operating the dam and Hogan has tied the recertification to Exelon’s commitment to help address the water quality issues that are. Exelon has challenged the State’s certification requirements both administratively and in the courts.

The Clean Chesapeake Coalition, an advocacy effort of Maryland counties formed to address Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) issues in 2012, was one of the early stakeholder groups that raised concerns about sediment and water pollution coming down the Susquehanna River and through the Conowingo Dam.

Washington Post article (2018-08-07) provided additional details, including the somewhat lukewarm response from other states to Hogan’s proposal:

New York’s representative at the meeting, Deputy Commissioner James Tierney of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, said water leaving the state’s borders is cleaner than when it reaches the bay.

Pennsylvania’s environmental secretary, Patrick McDonnell, declined to commit resources to cleaning up the debris, saying his government has been dealing with historic flooding that killed two people in the state.

“We were, frankly, in flood response mode,” McDonnell said.

The Post article also included criticism from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation on the efforts of Pennsylvania to address agricultural runoff. Pennsylvania has previously been criticized by the United States Environmental Protection Agency for being “significantly off track” in meetings its water quality goals under the Bay TMDL.

Useful Links

Prior Conduit Street Coverage on the Recent Debris and Sediment Surge From the Conowingo Dam

Clean Chesapeake Coalition

Heavy Rainfalls Send Debris, Sediment Plume Through Conowingo Dam

DelmarvaNow article (2018-08-01) reported that the recent heavy rainfalls have sent a plume of sediment and debris down the Susquehanna River, through the Conowingo Dam, and into the upper stem of the Chesapeake Bay. Exelon, the dam’s owner, recently opened the dam’s floodgates in order to relieve pressure from the rising waters in the dam’s reservoir.

In the article, a representative from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation described the event:

“This was a fairly unprecedented event,” said Doug Myers, Maryland senior scientist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “It swelled rivers and streams throughout the watershed. We saw satellite images that showed a brown plume going through the length of the Susquehanna through Pennsylvania. Then we saw that plume of suspended sediment come out into the bay.” …

“The sediment is a visible thing, but it’s not the thing the bay is most concerned with,” he said. “We’re seeing big piles of debris all along the shoreline and that has a tendency to scour over the Susquehanna flats, which is our largest seagrass bed in the bay. That debris pulled a lot of the grasses out of the mud.”

The article noted that since the dam’s reservoir has reached its capacity to trap sediment, heavy rainfall events will wash excess sediment through the reservoir and directly into the Bay. Such discharges can undermine the restoration efforts of Bay watershed states and local governments. In the article, Myers discussed the negative consequences these discharges can have on nutrient pollution and wildlife.

The article also discussed the efforts of Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to reach an agreement with Exelon on addressing the issue posed by the Conowingo Dam. While Exelon has offered to play some role in addressing the water quality concerns posed by the dam, it remains opposed to the State’s current proposal and also argues that it cannot capture all debris washed down the Susquehanna during flood events. Multiple legal and administrative challenges are currently underway and a final solution to the Conowingo problem remains elusive.

MACo’s longstanding position on the Conowingo Dam is that the excess nutrient and sediment pollution originating from the dam’s reservoir must be addressed. That burden should not fall on Maryland’s counties, which did not generate the pollution coming through the dam. Exelon, as the dam’s owner and beneficiary of the profits generated by the dam, should play a role in addressing the dam’s water pollution situation. Bay watershed states that generate the pollution flowing down the Susquehanna and into dam’s reservoir should also work to reduce their nutrient and sediment runoff.

Useful Links

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of the Conowingo Dam

Get the latest on the Conowingo Dam and the Bay TMDL during the 2018 MACo Summer Conference panel “Charting the Next Course for the Bay TMDL.” The panel will be held on August 16.

Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference:

 

Two Studies Critical of Maryland’s Renewable Energy Strategy

Baltimore Sun article (2018-07-29) reported on the release of two new studies that have criticized Maryland’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), arguing that: (1) the RPS subsidizes “dirty” forms of energy such as waste incineration and paper byproduct known as black liquor; and (2) allowing utilities to purchase renewable energy credits in lieu of actually purchasing renewable energy directly undermines a full transition to renewable energy sources. Maryland’s RPS currently requires that 25% of the state’s energy come from renewable sources by 2020.

The first study was released by the environmental advocacy group Food & Water Watch and assigned letter grades to the renewable energy efforts of each state. Maryland received an “F” grade because the RPS includes waste incineration and black liquor as renewable. Other states receiving an “F” included Delaware, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The two highest grades went to Hawaii (“B-“) and Vermont (“C+”). From the article:

Del. Dereck Davis, a Prince George’s County Democrat and chairman of the House of Delegates Economic Matters committee, said he thinks Maryland is “making strides” at growing its renewable energy supply and promoting development of solar and wind projects across the state.

He dismissed the state’s F grade from Food and Water Watch, pointing out that many states — 21 of them, according to the group’s study — don’t offer any renewable energy incentives at all.

Another study released by Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility (Chesapeake PSR) criticized Maryland’s use of renewable energy credits and argued that the practice was delaying a full transition to renewable energy within the state. The study argued that utilities could use credits to subsidize renewable energy producers “often in far away places” while continuing to meet Maryland’s energy needs through the use of fossil fuels. The study recommended that utilities only be allowed to purchase renewable energy from in-state producers.

Useful Links

Cleanwashing – How States Count Polluting Energy Sources as Renewable (Food & Water Watch Study)

Food & Water Watch Website

Unbundled – How Renewable Energy Credits Undermine Maryland’s Transition to Clean, Renewable Energy (Chesapeake PSR Study)

Chesapeake PSR Website

State Recertifies Cecil County’s Agricultural Land Preservation Program

The Maryland Department of Planning (MDP) and the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation (MALPF) this week recertified Cecil County’s agricultural land preservation program through June 30, 2021.

According to a press release:

MDP and MALPF jointly administer the Program for the Certification of County Agricultural Land Preservation Programs (the “Certification Program”). Created by the Maryland General Assembly in 1990, the Certification Program lets counties keep more locally generated agricultural land transfer tax in exchange for creating effective local land preservation programs and continually evaluating and improving them.

Certified counties are allowed to retain 75% of the Agricultural Transfer Tax revenue. The increase in a county’s share of Agriculture Transfer Tax helps support its agricultural land preservation program. All retained funds must be spent or encumbered for land preservation purposes or the funds revert to the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Fund. Retained funds can be used to purchase land preservation easements through a local program or a State program, used in the MALPF’s Matching Funds Program, applied to service past debt accrued through land preservation activities, and/or used to help pay the administrative expenses for the county’s land preservation activities.

Certification allows counties to create a preservation program that best meets local goals and needs. In combination with easement purchases, counties use other preservation tools such as agricultural zoning, transfer of development rights (TDRs), right-to-farm policies, and the establishment of agriculture as the best use of designated land. Other important aspects of local programs include defined areas for preservation and established acreage goals. In addition to the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation program, certified counties have typically also preserved land through private land trusts, Maryland Environmental Trust (MET), and the Rural Legacy Program among other organizations and programs.

Preserving agricultural lands has been a continuing and on-going goal of Cecil County since its first Master Development Plan was adopted in August 1962. Cecil has been a certified county since 1996, and during the last five years the County’s preserved-to-developed ratio was nearly 4.5 to 1. Preservation activities during this period include the successful purchases of development rights, collaboration with local land trusts, promotion of traditional and non-traditional agricultural activities and business, and managing land use in the County’s Priority Preservation Areas.

“Land preservation efforts are a key component in ensuring that Cecil County’s rural areas remain rural, and for the agricultural entities to remain viable and economically productive,” stated County Executive Alan McCarthy.

Read the full press release for more information.

How Will July Deluge Affect Health of the Chesapeake Bay?

Bay Journal article (2018-07-27) discussed the potential effects of the late July deluges on the health of the Chesapeake Bay and Bay restoration efforts. The article noted that the Bay watershed received 7 inches plus of rain from July 21 through July 25. However, the long term effects, if any, will be determined in the next several months.

Significant rainfall events can negatively effect water quality because additional nutrients and sediment gets washed into the Bay and its waterways.  Typically, heavy rainfall in the Bay area occurs during the spring and the mid-summer deluge is unusual. From the article:

High flows in the summer can be more damaging than at other times because it’s the peak of biological activity for many important Bay species, from underwater grass beds to juvenile fish and crabs.

Indeed, a recent report from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Maryland Department of the Environment examined the impact of high flow events from the Susquehanna River on the Chesapeake during similar storms in January, June and October.

The June storm, it found, had “greater adverse impacts to water quality, habitat, and living resources than October and January events.”

Useful Links

Lower Susquehanna Watershed Assessment Final Report (United States Army Corps of Engineers & Maryland Department of the Environment)

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of Lower Susquehanna Watershed Assessment

Learn more about the health of the Chesapeake Bay at the Clear Water: The State of the Bay panel on August 17 at the 2018 MACo Summer Conference.

Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference:

MDE Finalizes Water Quality Nutrient Trading Regulations

The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) has finalized its water quality nutrient trading regulations after several years of work. The regulations took effect on July 16, 2018.

MACo believes nutrient credit trading is a necessary tool in order to help both the State and local governments achieve their water quality goals under their Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permits and the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). MACo is generally supportive of the regulations, although continues to remain concerned about the high performance level that wastewater treatment plans must achieve in order to offer credits for trading and proposed process for integrating trading into the Phase I and Phase II MS4 permits.

The regulations establish a registry and allow trades of individual or aggregated nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment credits created by best management practices. Interjurisdictional trading and trades between sectors (i.e., wastewater treatment plants, agriculture, septics, and stormwater) are both allowed.

However, trades must occur within the same trading region. MDE has established three trading regions: (1) Potomac River Basin; (2) Patuxent River Basin; and (3) Eastern Shore and Western Shore River Basins, including the Maryland portion of the Susquehanna Basin. Additionally, trading with wastewater treatment plants is only allowed if the plants are generating outflows equal to or less than 3.0 mg/l for nitrogen or .3 mg/l for phosphorus. (This threshold is higher than the threshold a wastewater treatment plant must achieve in order to meet its Bay TMDL targets.)

At the July 23 meeting of the Water Trading Quality Advisory Committee meeting, MDE representatives discussed next steps regarding the trading regulations. The representatives stressed that the existing regulations may need to be modified over time. MDE is working to update the existing manual, web pages, and forms associated with trading by September. The online registry must also be finalized, with appropriate training offered.

Regarding MS4 permits, MDE stated that the new Phase II MS4 permit that will be effective in October of 2018 will have trading “built in” to the permit’s basic language. However, for existing Phase I permits, each permit will have to go through a modification process that includes a public hearing. Each permittee must request the modification in writing and state: (1) what percentage of their 20% impervious surface treatment goal they want to achieve through trading; and (2) why they cannot meet the 20% treatment goal without trading. In Maryland, ten counties are Phase I jurisdictions: Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Charles, Frederick, Harford, Howard, Montgomery, and Prince George’s Counties. Additionally, those counties that are required to file financial assurance plans will need to be updated to reflect how a county plans on using trading.

MDE stated that while the agency plans on doing some inspections and enforcement itself, it also plans to “partner with counties and others.”

Useful Links

Maryland Water Quality Trading Program Regulations

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of Nutrient Trading Regulations

Agriculture Worried About General Assembly Shake-Up

Cecil Whig article (2018-07-24) described how the agricultural community is carefully watching how the November general elections will play out, especially given the loss of several pro-agriculture incumbents during the primary. Maryland Farm Bureau Government Relations Director Colby Ferguson voiced several concerns in the article, noting that while “food is bipartisan” there were now many legislators who had no farms within their district. Ferguson also touched on the loss of several ag-friendly incumbents Senators: Finance Committee Chair Thomas “Mac” Middleton; Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee Chair Joan Carter Conway; and Wayne Norman. From the article:

 “And we lost Wayne Norman. He was a tremendous supporter of agriculture in Cecil County and across the state.” …

Ferguson said the Farm Bureau also had relationships with several high-ranking legislators from urban areas who will no longer be in office because of surprising primary losses. Thomas “Mac” Middleton (D-Charles) and Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore City) were some of those powerful incumbents to be unseated.

“(Conway) was not necessarily a voice for the farm community, but she was a moderate and she looked at things fairly,” Ferguson said.

The article also discussed the challenge Maryland’s agriculture and seafood industries were facing due to federal legal requirements on seasonal immigrant workers and the potential benefits composting could bring to agriculture.

Infrastructure Investment, One Oyster at a Time

oyster-989182_1280Governor Larry Hogan is providing millions of dollars in additional funding for oyster recovery efforts. The source? The Transportation Trust Fund.

About $8 million from the fund will support the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) over the next four years. According to DNR’s press release, the funds will support “ongoing and future [oyster] industry efforts, including dedicated funding for equipment, labor, material, supervision and support.”

Increased funding will go toward oyster propagation and replenishment efforts through 2023 with no less than $925,000 annually going to support the wild oyster fishery, with the Department of Natural Resources coordinating with county oyster committees and watermen on shared projects and priorities, including the establishment of oyster seed areas, monitoring, sampling, seed and shell plantings, surveying and transplanting.

Deputy Transportation Secretary Jim Ports alludes to the transportation nexus in the release:

The Chesapeake Bay is a great source of business to both the Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore and the oyster industry. Thanks to our partnership with the Department of Natural Resources, this new oyster restoration agreement provides even more money directly to Maryland watermen to ensure a sustainable oyster industry for years to come.

Oyster experts also join forces with port powerhouses at the MACo Summer Conference general session, “The Wealth in our Water,” on Thursday, August 16 from 12:45 pm – 1:45 pm. Maryland Port Administration’s Dominic Scurti joins the Oyster Recovery Partnership’s Ward Slacum and Andrea Vernot, President & Managing Partner of Choptank Communications, to discuss the deluge of ways the Bay keeps Maryland’s economy flowing – from tiny oysters to supersized ships.

The 2018 MACo Summer Conference will be held August 15-18 at the Roland Powell Convention Center in Ocean City, Maryland. This year’s theme is “Water, Water Everywhere.”

Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference:

 

US House Passes Bill Restricting EPA From Enforcing Bay TMDL

Baltimore Sun article (2018-07-19) reported that the United States House of Representatives has passed a bill that would limit the ability of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from assessing penalties against those states that fail to meet their water pollution reduction goals under the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). The bill would still have to pass the Senate, which has already rejected a previous measure sent over by the House.

While considering a bill on budget appropriations for the EPA and Department of the Interior, Republican Representative Bob Goodlatte (Virginia) again proposed the prohibition as an amendment. According to the article, the amendment passed 213-202 with Maryland’s congressional delegation voting 7-0 against the amendment (Representative Steny Hoyer did not vote).

From the article:

Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William C. Baker called the amendment “shortsighted” and said it threatens progress at improving the bay’s health. …

The Senate did not approve a similar amendment the House adopted last year. Gov. Larry Hogan joined environmentalists in urging the upper chamber to reject the proposal in February, as it faced a deadline to fund the federal government.

Useful Links

Prior Conduit Street Coverage on Goodlatte EPA Restrictions