E&T Committee Holds Open Work Session on Forest Conservation Act, Solar Siting

The House Environment and Transportation (E&T) Committee has announced it will be holding an open work session on Wednesday, November 1, 2017, to further study: (1) the Forest Conservation Act; and (2) solar energy and land management. The Committee will likely consider whether legislation in either of these areas is warranted for the 2018 Session.

As previously reported on Conduit Street, Forest Conservation Act reform was a major initiative by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and other environmental groups during the 2018 Session. Likewise, the siting of utility scale solar and other generation facilities resulted in legislation, including a successful MACo Legislative Initiative that gave local governments a greater voice in the siting process. However, legislation was also considered that would have allowed solar development on preserved agricultural lands. (HB 863 of 2017).

The E&T work session is set to begin a 1:00 pm and will be similar to a bill hearing in that interested parties may sign up and testify on either or both topics. A witness sign-up sheet will be located in the E&T hearing room (Room 251 in the House Office Building) starting at 9:00 am. If you want to bring handouts, 30 copies are required.

MACo plans to testify on both issues.

Useful Links

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of Forest Conservation Act

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of MACo Energy Siting Initiative

HB 863 of 2017

E&T Committee Web Page

 

Federal Judge Upholds Baltimore City Sewer Consent Decree

A Bay Journal article (2017-10-14) reported that the U.S. District Court has upheld a Baltimore City agreement that gives the City until 2030 to address its sewage overflow and backup problems.  According to the article, Judge J. Frederick Motz approved a new consent decree and rejected arguments from the environmental group Blue Water Baltimore that the agreement should be further strengthened. The new agreement is a modification of a 2002 agreement between the City and federal and state regulators that set a January 2016 deadline to address the problems. The article noted that Baltimore City has spent nearly $1 billion to repair its sewage infrastructure but was unable to meet the 2016 goals.

 

The revised agreement requires the City to fund a series of upgrade projects to reduce overflows by 80 percent after four years, with further improvements continuing until 2030. The estimated cost of the work is $1.6 billion, with most of that cost falling on the City. From the article:

Noting the failure of previous repairs to end overflows, [Blue Water Baltimore] wanted an additional provision added that would have required that the city to adjust its repair plans and do more if stream and harbor monitoring doesn’t show sufficient water-quality improvements.

Lawyers representing federal and city officials urged the judge to disregard the environmental group’s complaint, saying that the sewer repairs alone cannot be expected to make Baltimore’s water safe. Other sources of contamination that impact waterways, including those caused by illegal connections of sewer lines to storm drains, are to be dealt with separately in the city’s stormwater permits, they said.

Angela Haren, Blue Water’s advocacy director and the Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper, said the group is encouraged that the Maryland Department of the Environment and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency both agree that “all useful data,” including water-quality monitoring, should be considered when determining whether the city’s sewer repairs have succeeded.

Useful Links

Blue Water Baltimore Website

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of Baltimore City Sewer Consent Decree

City Council Member Pushes for Restaurant Health Inspection Transparency

In an attempt to increase transparency over the health inspection reports for the more than 5,700 restaurants in Baltimore City, Council Member Brandon Scott has introduced a bill requiring the establishments to post their most recent inspection results on the outside of their restaurants.

As reported in The Baltimore Sun:

The bill is the latest attempt in what’s been a four-year effort by Scott to let Baltimore customers know more about the cleanliness of the restaurants in which they eat. Unlike previous failed attempts, this version of the bill does not contain a letter grading system.

“This is about being transparent about the health of the citizens of Baltimore,” Scott said, citing restaurant grades in New York and elsewhere.

The article notes that the bill is raising concern restaurant owners who have opposed Scott’s prior legislative attempts to require them to post letter grades of their inspection reports. The current bill takes a different approach to transparency by requiring the full report to be posted. Council Member Scott has also introduced a bill requiring restaurants to offer healthy drink options with kids’ meals.

While his previous inspection transparency bills failed, he was successfully in passing a bill in 2015 that required restaurants that were forced to close due to health code violations to post signs noting why they are closed. Additionally the Baltimore City Health Department has launched an online database providing consumers with information regarding restaurant health inspections.

To learn more:

Baltimore councilman seeks to require restaurants to post health inspection results (The Baltimore Sun)

 

MDE Releases Draft Nutrient Credit Trading Regulations

A Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) news release (2017-10-11) announced the release of draft regulations that would establish a water quality nutrient credit trading program. The draft regulations culminate a series of attempts that began in 2012 to establish a viable nutrient credit trading program. MACo believes a strong trading program can assist local governments in meeting their water quality goals under the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load. From the MDE news release:

The Maryland Department of the Environment has proposed regulations to establish the Maryland Water Quality Trading Program and accelerate the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay while bringing economic benefits to Maryland. The regulations are proposed under Maryland environmental law to ensure enforcement and accountability under the federal Clean Water Act.

The proposed regulations are designed to provide greater flexibility and reduce costs in achieving Maryland’s goals under its blueprint to meet federal pollution limits for the Bay. The voluntary program would establish a marketplace for private sector participation in meeting Bay cleanup goals.

Nutrient and sediment credit trading offer attractive alternatives to more costly traditional approaches for improving water quality and have the potential to achieve results more quickly and at a lower cost, accelerating efforts to restore and improve water quality. The trading program that would be established by the proposed regulations expands opportunities for all sources by giving them access to a water quality marketplace and flexibility in meeting and maintaining their pollution limits by acquiring credits generated from load reductions in local watersheds in Maryland’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

“Maryland is a leader in reducing greenhouse gases and is now poised to make similar gains for clean water with nutrient credit trading,” said Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles. “We can speed up the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay and reduce the cost of restoration with innovative partnerships and regulatory safeguards.”

The proposed regulations were developed with significant input from the Maryland Water Quality Trading Advisory Committee. Earlier this year, the Maryland Departments of the Environment and Agriculture published a draft “Maryland Trading and Offset Policy and Guidance Manual” in consultation with the Advisory Committee.

In 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency established the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), with pollution limits and load allocations for the pollutants nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment. Maryland developed a Watershed Implementation Plan, or blueprint, that allocates pollution loads for the wastewater, stormwater, septic, agricultural and forest sectors.

The Maryland Water Quality Trading Program will allow agricultural sources that have reduced their pollution beyond the required “baseline” to produce credits that can be purchased by counties or municipalities to meet Bay cleanup requirements to reduce polluted stormwater runoff. The cost of reducing nitrogen could be as low as $200 per pound in the agriculture sector, compared to an estimated $3,800 per pound for urban retrofits to reduce stormwater runoff.

The proposed regulations include mechanisms for the Department of the Environment to certify credits for trading. The certification process relies heavily on EPA Chesapeake Bay Program modeling tools, expert panel reviews of Best Management Practices and other technical and policy support. The Department of the Environment’s review would include limits on the geography within which a trade can take place and evaluate expected improvements in water quality.

The Department of the Environment submitted the proposed regulations yesterday to the Administrative Executive and Legislative Review (AELR) Committee for a 15-day review. The Department expects to submit proposed regulations for publication in the Maryland Register in November. A public comment period would follow that publication.

Useful Links

MDE Draft Nutrient Credit Trading Regulations

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of Nutrient Credit Trading

Delmarva Farmer Editorial: Goodbye to Waters of the US Rule Change

A Delmarva Farmer editorial (2017-10-06) recounted the history of the controversial change in the definition of “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) for purposes of implementing the federal Clean Water Act, noted its demise under United States President Donald Trump, and expressed optimism that farmers will have a voice in changing the rule going forward.

As previously reported on Conduit Street, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and United States Army  Corps of Engineers proposed and adopted a rule that would expand the WOTUS definition to include streams, wetlands, and intermittent water flows – making them subject to Clean Water Act permitting and mitigation requirements. MACo joined with the National Association of Counties (NACo) in expressing concern that the proposed definition included stormwater drain pipes and roadside drainage ditches. However, the new definition never took effect as the rule change spawned significant litigation and a federal court froze the rule’s implementation. Subsequently, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that reverted the WOTUS definition to the version that existed before the proposed changed.

From the editorial:

In response to Trump’s executive order in February, the EPA announced that it would formally repeal the WOTUS rule and the work was slated to begin on writing a new rule which would provide farmers with clarity and certainty, reduce red tape, and not discourage farming practices that improve water quality.

It now seems reasonably certain that WOTUS, in its original concept, will end up in the federal waste basket and that the nation’s farmers will have a say in what will replace it.

Useful Links

Conduit Street Article on Trump WOTUS Executive Order

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of Waters of the US

NACo WOTUS Resource Page

Queen Anne’s Making Progress On SKI Sewer Project

Failing septic systems can cause hydraulic fractures and water contamination. In order to address this issue on South Kent Island (SKI) in Queen Anne’s County, sewer lines are being extended to replace aging septic systems. The $34 million project to connect 1,518 existing homes and eight commercial properties to Queen Anne’s County’s public sewer system. The project will be implemented in four phases over a 10-year period.

The County’s initiative to provide public sewer will overcome the site limitations of the region by segregating the sewage effluent from the high groundwater. The plan will also provide superior treatment of the effluent at the existing Kent Narrows / Stevensville / Grasonville (KNSG) wastewater treatment plant by eliminating pathogens as well as reducing nitrogen loads.

The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) estimates that 30,400 pounds per year of nitrogen are currently being discharged into the Chesapeake Bay from the SKI service area. After connection to the KN/S/G wastewater treatment, MDE estimates that 13,100 pounds per year of nitrogen will be discharged from the SKI service area. This is a reduction of 17,300 pounds per year of nitrogen, which far exceeds the nitrogen reduction from alternative on-site sewage disposal systems. This reduction in nitrogen loads will also help the County reach about 33 percent of its septic system goal for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan.

Estimated project costs were reduced significantly through the use of the septic tank effluent pumping (STEP) system that limits transmission of effluent to greywater. This technology eliminated the need for intermediate pumping stations and minimized sources for inflow and infiltration.

The Queen Anne’s County Department of Public Works on Tuesday released a September progress report.

According to the report:

STEP
Contractor installed 19 tanks for the month. That brings the total tanks installed, as of 9-30-17, to 142. That equals about 23% of the contract amount paid to date with 21% of the contract time used. The contractor will be installing tanks on Utah next week. The contractor has indicated that they will be mobilizing an additional crew to start installing tanks. They will also be working on installing electrical disconnects on some of the sites that already have tanks installed. They will be contacting the homeowners of those sites before working on the outside electrical meters. County staff has received 588 easements to date. This is about 76% of all easements required.

Community
Contractor installed about 1500 lf of pipe by the open cut method this month. They have also installed 10 clean-outs for the month and connected several drill shots to open-cut pipes. This equates to about 67% of the contract paid out with 41% of the contract time used. Contractor will finish installing pipe in phase “C” and move to phase “B” to finish connection there.

Transmission
Contractor installed about 1050 lf of pipe by the open cut method this month. That makes about 76% of the contract paid out with 41% of the contract time used. This pipe is filling in some areas that were skipped over due to the extremely wet conditions at the time they were first there. It is also connecting some drill shots together. Contractor will continue filling in these gaps heading south along RT 8 from Baltimore.

Useful Links

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: BPW Approves Long-Standing Kent Island Sewer Project

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Tackling Complex Public Works Projects at #MACoCon

LGAC Charts Local Path For Bay TMDL Final Phase

The Local Government Advisory Committee (LGAC) met on October 5 and 6 to prepare recommendations regarding local government participation and concerns in meeting Chesapeake Bay Agreement goals, including the Phase III Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) for the Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). The meeting took place in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

LGAC is part of the Chesapeake Bay Program and advises the Executive Council on local government engagement, challenges, and needs in meeting Bay water quality and habitat goals. Its membership includes county and municipal representatives from all six bay watershed states and the District of Columbia.

United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state environmental agency representatives briefed LGAC on the Bay TMDL midpoint assessment, including how additional pollution loads from growth, the Conowingo Dam, and climate change would be incorporated into the pending local water goals that will be issued by EPA. One proposal regarding the Conowingo Dam load would add the load to the Susquehanna River basin and those basins where it would be most “cost effective” to treat the loads (primarily the upper eastern and western shore areas in Maryland).

Each Bay state also reported out on their local engagement efforts and current best practices and challenges. The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay discussed its local watershed education and capacity building project. In Maryland, the Alliance will be working directly with MACo on curriculum development for local elected officials. Another presentation addressed alternative financing for stormwater projects.

MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp participated in the meeting on behalf of Maryland’s counties. For further information, please contact Les at 410.269.0043 or lknapp@mdcounties.org.

Useful Links

LGAC Webpage

Chesapeake Bay Program Website

 

NY Times Lists 48 Environmental Rules Being Overturned or Rolled Back

A New York Times article (2017-10-05) summarized 48 environmental rules that have been overturned or are in the process of being rolled back by the administration of President Donald Trump. Some of these rule changes directly affect county governments. Besides a more detailed description of each rule, the article provides a useful chart summarizing the changes:

24 Rules Have Been Overturned
  • Flood building standards
  • Ban on chlorpyrifos, a potentially harmful pesticide
  • Freeze on new coal leases on public lands
  • Methane reporting requirement
  • Anti-dumping rule for coal companies
  • Decision on Keystone XL pipeline
  • Decision on Dakota Access pipeline
  • Third-party settlement funds
  • Offshore drilling ban in the Atlantic and Arctic
  • Ban on seismic air gun testing in the Atlantic
  • Northern Bering Sea climate resilience plan
  • Royalty regulations for oil, gas and coal
  • Inclusion of greenhouse gas emissions in environmental reviews
  • Permit-issuing process for new infrastructure projects
  • Green Climate Fund contributions
  • Mining restrictions in Bristol Bay, Alaska
  • Grizzly bear listing as endangered species
  • Hunting ban on wolves and grizzly bears in Alaska
  • Protection of whales and sea turtles
  • Reusable water bottles rule for national parks
  • National parks climate order
  • Calculation for “social cost” of carbon
  • Planning rule for public lands
  • Copper filter cake listing as hazardous waste
17 Rollbacks Are In Progress
  • Clean Power Plan
  • Paris climate agreement
  • Wetland and tributary protections
  • Car and truck fuel-efficiency standards
  • Status of 10 national monuments
  • Status of 12 marine areas
  • Limits on toxic discharge from power plants
  • Coal ash discharge regulations
  • Emissions standards for new, modified and reconstructed power plants
  • Emissions rules for power plant start-up and shutdown
  • Sage grouse habitat protections
  • Fracking regulations on public lands
  • Oil rig safety regulations
  • Regulations for offshore oil and gas exploration by floating vessels
  • Exploratory drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge
  • Hunting method regulations in Alaska
  • Emissions standards for trailers and glider kits
7 Rollbacks Are In Limbo
  • Methane emission limits at new oil and gas wells
  • Limits on landfill emissions
  • Mercury emission limits for power plants
  • Hazardous chemical facility regulations
  • Groundwater protections for uranium mines
  • Efficiency standards for federal buildings
  • Rule helping consumers buy fuel-efficient tires

The chart above reflects three types of policy changes: rules that have been officially reversed; announcements and changes still in progress, pending reviews and other rulemaking procedures; and regulations whose status is unclear because of delays or court actions.

The article also described five other rules that were reinstated after legal challenges. The article’s chart does not include new rules proposed by the Trump administration or court actions that have changed how rules are enforced.

MACo Legislative Committee Receives Aligning for Growth Update

MACo’s Legislative Committee received an update on the state’s pending “Aligning for Growth” (AfG) policy on September 27. The AfG policy, also known as “Accounting for Growth,” will dictate how new development must offset the water pollution it generates. The policy is required to be included in Maryland’s draft Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) that must be submitted to the EPA by the end of 2018.  There have been several prior unsuccessful attempts to create an AfG policy. As previously reported on Conduit Street, MACo has offered some preliminary comments on the two potential AfG options being currently being considered.

Maryland Department of the Environment Water and Science Administration Assistant Director Matthew Rowe provided a presentation on the current plan and potential options for the development of an AfG policy. Rowe noted that the AfG policy is primarily designed to offset water pollution generated by: (1) onsite sewage disposal systems (OSDS) or septic systems; and (2) stormwater runoff. The two potential options being considered include: (1) an OSDS/Forest Conversion option that requires offsets on new OSDS growth and development on forest land; and (2) a Lowest Per Capita Loading option that set offset requirements based on county-specific pollution loading maps.

Rowe also stated that near-term goals for the AfG policy include soliciting preliminary stakeholder feedback and developing a detailed timeline for the policy’s development with a December 2018 deadline. Mid-term goals include fleshing out the policy options and considering stakeholder input.

MACo anticipates being involved throughout the AfG policy development process. For further information please contact MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp at 401.269.0043 or lknapp@mdcounties.org.

Useful Links

Conduit Street Article on MACo AfG Comments

Conduit Street Article on Proposed AfG Options

Delmarva Farmer Editorial: Solar Development Threatens Eastern Shore Ag

A Delmarva Farmer editorial (2017-09-22) raised ongoing concerns that Eastern Shore agricultural lands remain threated by large scale solar development. The editorial cited recent utility scale projects in the areas of East New Market and Hurlock and expressed concern that the Invenerg, the Chicago-based company behind the Hurlock project did not hold any community outreach meetings or engage in preliminary discussions with adjacent land owners. The editorial argued that the loss of farmland can have a cascade effect on the economy of the Eastern Shore. From the editorial:

We are aware that solar power generation is useful and environmentally desirable.

We are also aware that it is being heavily awarded financially. …

Solar developers argue — and we agree — that solar development will occupy only a fraction of the farmland acreage on the Shore.

But put a value on that farmland — hundreds of acres of solar panels — and remember it has just started — and translate that annual loss into bushels of corn and soybeans and wheat and translate that loss into its impact on the poultry industry.

Consider erecting those columns of solar panels on the huge expanses of acreage provided by landfills, abandoned industrial properties, brownfields and the like.