MDE Approves Counties’ Stormwater Financial Plans, Environmentalists Critical

A Bay Journal article (2016-10-18) reported that the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) has approved the financial assurance plans submitted by the 10 counties subject to a Phase 1 Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit for stormwater runoff. As previously reported on Conduit Street, SB 863 of 2015 repealed the requirement that the ten Phase 1 jurisdictions adopt a stormwater remediation fee (commonly known as the “rain tax”) but instead imposed significant reporting requirements, including the submission of a financial assurance plan detailing how the jurisdiction was going to pay for and meet the stormwater runoff reductions under their MS4 permit. From the article:

The Maryland Department of the Environment issued a statement saying that Baltimore city and the state’s nine largest counties met their requirements under state law to develop financing plans showing how they will pay to reduce stormwater runoff and restore the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. …

“Today’s news further illustrates what many Marylanders and local officials have already known for years: The state does not need to impose yet another burdensome tax on homeowners and job creators in order to successfully manage stormwater runoff,” [Governor Larry] Hogan said. “The innovative plans put forward by these jurisdictions offer even more proof that repealing the Rain Tax was the right thing to do.” …

[Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben] Grumbles issued a statement saying that Maryland’s largest jurisdictions “deserve credit for stepping forward to pay for these clean water projects — for the good of our environment and Maryland’s economy.” The MDE statement said that the 10 localities projected spending more than $1 billion combined over the next five years on stormwater reduction projects.

However, the article also noted that environmental groups had concerns about some of the plans, questioning the reliance on outside funding sources such as grants, questionable stormwater reduction projects, and the use nutrient credit trading. Several counties have also brought legal challenges against the State’s MS4 permit requirements.

The [MDE] announcement comes a day after the Bay Journal reported that a coalition of 18 environmental groups had charged that there were “significant procedural and substantive flaws” in how the localities complied with the law. The groups called on the MDE to reject deficient plans and make local officials fix them. …

“Is there a plan they would not have approved?” asked Evan Isaacson, an analyst with the Center for Progressive Reform. The Washington-based think tank reviewed the localities financing plans itself and reported that it found a number of gaps and flaws in them. …

[Chesapeake Bay Foundation Maryland Executive Director Alison] Prost said the MDE “must be held accountable for approving these flawed plans.” She said foundation officials are weighing possible legal action, but may also urge legislative leaders to consider revising the law yet again to demand more accountability. Prost said environmental advocates may also call on the EPA to step in, as federal officials have already found Maryland’s stormwater reduction efforts lagging.

Useful Links

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of Stormwater Financial Assurance Plans

Bay Journal Article (2016-10-17) on Environmentalist Concerns With County Plans

Attention Counties: The Maryland Smart Energy Communities Program Now Accepting Funding Applications

A total of $1.6 million is available for the FY 17 Maryland Smart Energy Communities (MSEC) program. This funding is to be divided between new and existing Maryland Smart Energy Communities with $725K for eligible energy efficiency projects, and $855K for eligible renewable energy and transportation projects. New and Existing Community applications are due by February 16, 2017.

What’s new?

MSECBeginning in FY17, the MSEC Grant Program will no longer consider Low-to-Moderate Income Projects. Communities with eligible projects must submit a separate application to the Clean Energy Communities Low-to-Moderate Income Grant Program. For more information, visit the LMI Grant Program website.

Is my community eligible to apply?

All Maryland counties and incorporated municipalities are eligible and encouraged to apply. See more eligibility details and ranking criteria here.

How do I apply?

Has your community received funding from the MSEC program before? Existing communities can download the Existing Communities application here.

Is your community new to the MSEC program? New communities can download the New Community application here.

Where can I print a one-pager to share?

A one-page overview PDF document is available online here.

Want guidance on the application or a project idea?

Existing Community Webinar: Ask questions, discuss projects and ranking criteria, and address other items related to the program with the MSEC Program Team and peer communities. Thursday, December 1 @ 1pm. Sign-up here to join the discussion.

New Community Webinar: Receive a brief program overview, ask questions, discuss projects, and get comfortable with the program. Join the MSEC Program Team and peer communities for this event. Wednesday, November 30 @ 10am. Sign-up here to join the discussion.

If you can’t make the webinar, don’t hesitate to contact Caitlin Madera or Sean Williamson with questions. Learn more about the program online at:

Critics Charge BAT Septic Repeal Equals Sprawl Development

In a Bay Journal op-ed (2016-10-12) environmental advocate and Salisbury University professor Tom Horton was highly critical of proposed regulations by Governor Lawrence (Larry) Hogan that would repeal the requirement to use best available nitrogen removal technology (BAT) septic systems outside of the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays critical areas. Horton, along with other critics, alleged that the repeal would lead to a return to sprawl development. From the op-ed:

Hogan’s administration is opening the gate not only for more-polluting septic systems, but for a lot more of them — for a return to the sprawl development that Maryland has spent most of the last 20 years trying to channel into smarter, cleaner growth. …

“Without septic, you don’t have sprawl,” said Richard Hall, who was Maryland’s secretary of state planning for eight years under Gov. Martin O’Malley, Hogan’s predecessor.

Historically, in the absence of protective rural zoning, septic perc tests steered development toward prime farm soils and bigger lots — toward the suburban sprawl that’s well-documented to increase air pollution through more driving; raise taxes as counties extend services; and gobble up an average eight times as much land per household as do homes connected to sewers.

The op-ed alleged that the BAT septic requirement and the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012 (SB 163), commonly known as the “tier map” legislation, were intertwined and being weakened under the Hogan Administration.

Minimizing septic tanks seemed the logical answer to Hall and his boss, O’Malley. In 2012, they crafted a widely accepted law that dramatically limited development on septic tanks wherever the landscape was “predominantly agriculture and forest.” About the same time, O’Malley required all new septics to remove nitrogen, making sprawl development more expensive, but also less polluting. …

The septic “tier mapping law” as it is known, left ultimate land use power with the counties; but it gave Hall’s Department of State Planning, and the MDE broad latitude to pressure counties into compliance, even to hold up development if it was contrary to the law’s anti-sprawl intent. …

The signals from the state are clear, not just to Cecil, but to Calvert, Queen Anne’s and other rural counties under growth pressure. They need no longer fear state intervention against sprawl. Smart growth is out; dumb growth is back.

State planners these days “pay more attention to the casual Fridays dress code” than they do to Smart Growth laws, said longtime land use advocate Dru Schmidt-Perkins, head of 1000 Friends of Maryland.

“The message to the counties is, ‘Do what you want’,” Hall said of his old department.

Learn more about the proposed BAT septic system repeal at the 2016 MACo Winter Conference by attending the BATter Up! Understanding the BAT Septic System Issue panel.

Learn more about MACo’s Winter Conference:

Voice Your Thoughts On Local Bay Restoration Efforts At #MACoCon

County governments and local officials play a vital role in the restoration of the Chespeake Bay. Join in a group discussion and offer direct feedback on the programs, coordination, and communication necessary to enhance the capacity and knowledge base of local officials in order to increase their support for Bay restoration programs. Make your voice heard at the 2016 MACo Winter Conference.

Special Session: Chesapeake Bay Program Outreach: Engaging Local Leaders on Chesapeake Bay Agreement


Join representatives from the federal/state Chesapeake Bay Program partnership to hear an update about the Bay Agreement – a multi-state compact that seeks to restore the Chesapeake Bay. The Agreement includes implementation strategies covering a broad range of issues, including climate adaptation, fish habitat, forest buffers, wetlands, 2017 and 2025 watershed implementation plans, toxic contaminants policy and prevention, land use methods and metrics development, local leadership, and diversity.  Many of these strategies have the potential to affect local governments.

The representatives are seeking the input of local officials on how to best coordinate efforts, improve communication, and increase local elected official knowledge across the Bay watershed. This is your chance to offer constructive feedback and comment directly to the EPA and Maryland state government.


  • Andrew Fellows, Chair, Local Leadership Workgroup, Chesapeake Bay Program
  • Robert Summers, Senior Program Manager, EcoLogix Group Project Team

Date & Time: Thursday, December 8, 2016; 4:30 pm – 5:30 pm

Learn more about MACo’s Winter Conference:

Counties & Energy Companies Offer Perspectives on Energy Facility Preemption

A lengthy Baltimore Sun article (2016-10-15) provided an overview of the energy facility siting and local land use preemption issue that will be examined during the 2017 Session. As previously reported on Conduit Street, MACo has adopted the siting of “dispersed” energy generation facilities as one of its 2017 Legislative Initiatives. Unlike traditional power plants like coal, oil, or nuclear, these new types of facilities can be placed on a variety of farmland or open space with little additional infrastructure and include technologies such as wind, solar, gasification, or small incinerators. The article noted the explosive growth of solar facilities in particular in the last several years:

Energy companies, lured by a state policy that encourages renewable electricity generation and riding a larger industry boom, are flocking to Maryland farmland to build massive solar installations. Developers proposed 11,000 new solar projects in the state last year, more than twice as many as in 2014….

Currently, the Public Service Commission (PSC) is the state agency primarily responsible for the siting of energy generation facilities above a certain generation size. While the PSC has not yet taken a position on MACo’s proposal, the article cited a former PSC chairman, who argued that the authority should remain with the State. But given the new types of technologies involved, county officials and MACo are concerned that local comprehensive planning goals and the nature of a community can be arbitrarily upset if local zoning, preservation easements, and environmental requirements are ignored:

“The reason the PSC is given the power to make those decisions is that many times, local officials, if not their constituents, take the position, ‘It shouldn’t be here. It should be in someone else’s backyard,'” said Russell Frisby, who led the [PSC] from 1995 to 1998. “The authority really should remain with the Public Service Commission.”

But in rural communities that have already seen housing developments splinter and absorb farmland, solar farms are viewed as a new threat. …

“I don’t think it’s right that the PSC can just come in and say, ‘Guess what? We’ve just approved 48 500-foot wind turbines in your county,’ and plunk it down,” [Talbot County Councilman Dirck Bartlett]  said. “What that would do, without any local control, could really reshape an area forever.”

The article also discussed the competing challenges posed to individual farmers – a potentially lucrative and easy source of income during a time when they may be struggling versus keeping agriculture a viable industry in the state.

Some farmers weren’t interested — anything that breaks up open cropland makes farming more difficult and more expensive. …

Agricultural land is ideal for the energy projects because it is wide and flat, and already cleared, said Sebastien Houde, an assistant professor of agricultural and resource economics at the University of Maryland, College Park. And solar developers know they can match or exceed farmers’ income per acre, Houde said.

The article summarized two “flashpoint” cases in Kent and Allegany Counties that led to the broader discussion of energy facility siting:

Kent County officials designated a commercial and industrial zone years ago for renewable energy projects and other new industries. But at least one solar developer is looking outside it. Now the county is leading a fight against the [PSC’s] power. …

The problem for Kent officials and residents isn’t that it’s a massive solar farm — it’s that it’s not in the right place. …

In Allegany, Dan’s Mountain Wind Force wants to build 17 wind turbines along the county’s highest ridge.

The group, a subsidiary of Laurel Renewable Partners LLC in Greensburg, Pa., originally planned more, but scaled back amid eight years of back-and-forth with Allegany officials concerned about impacts to scenic mountain vistas and the county’s 911 communications antenna. …

The developer is petitioning the commission for a permit overruling local rules, as it appeals the zoning decision in court.

In filings with the commission, Allegany officials say they don’t necessarily even oppose the wind project. But they “vehemently” object to what a lawyer for the county calls “efforts to circumvent Allegany County’s land use and zoning authority.”

MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp stressed that counties generally support renewable energy and other types of “dispersed” energy generation technology like gasification, but that they should not arbitrarily disrupt long term county plans for growth and land preservation. Instead they should be part of that long term thought-out framework:

The Maryland Association of Counties is preparing policy proposals for the 2017 legislative session in Annapolis aimed at settling such conflicts.

“I think what we would look for is a simple acknowledgment that these types of facilities should be subject to local zoning,” said Les Knapp, legal and policy council for MACo. “Their location should be considered and in line with how counties are growing and developing.”

Reaction from energy companies has been mixed to the MACo proposal and county concerns and the article summarized several viewpoints:

David Friend, Laurel’s CEO, says the state authority is key because any change or extra hurdle imposed at the county level could chill the development of new projects.

“These development processes take a long time,” he said. “If they change the rules, you’ll never build another power station or power line in Maryland again.” [Author’s Note: MACo is not questioning the authority of the state to cite traditional large-scale power plants or transmission lines.] …

Solar industry officials said they want to cooperate with local communities as they seize new opportunities.

“The industry is really willing to work with the counties,” said Dana Sleeper, executive director of the Maryland Solar Energy Industries Association. “Folks get a little bit scared when there’s something new.”

The article also provided an overview of New Jersey’s recent incentive-based approach to encourage solar development on brownfields.

Useful Links

Prior Conduit Street Coverage

MACo Offers Concerns to EPA on Phase III WIPs & Communication

naco logoMACo Associate Director Natasha Mehu joined county representatives from the other five Chesapeake Bay Watershed States to hear an update from the United State Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on the status of the Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and Phase III Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) and offer feedback on the EPA’s communication and outreach efforts. The October 12 meeting was organized and hosted by the National Association of Counties (NACo) in Washington, DC.

Region 3 Administrator Shawn Garvin provided an overview of  the EPA’s current TMDL efforts while other EPA officials discussed plans for the upcoming Phase III WIPs. A link to EPA’s WIP presentation is below. One of the most controversial EPA proposals is to assign pollution reduction loads directly to local governments as opposed to the states. (Maryland is the only Bay state to have county loading assignments but those assignments were made at the state and not the federal level.)

Mehu joined the other county representatives in expressing concern about a direct local assignment from EPA, noting that Maryland’s counties have already made significant progress and investment in the goals mandated by the State. On the topic of communication and outreach, Mehu praised the accessibility of the local EPA Bay Program office but expressed frustration with the Region 3 office, asserting that a direct and regular communication process was needed with county governments. EPA did indicate a willingness to improve its communication and data sharing with counties going forward.

MACo will continue to address TMDL and WIP issues at both the state and, in conjunction with NACo, the federal level.

Useful Links

EPA Phase III WIP Presentation

EPA Awards Port Clean Diesel Grant

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just announced its award of a grant of almost $1 million to the Port of Baltimore to further reduce diesel emissions by heavy equipment used onsite. The federal grant, which comes from the EPA Clean Diesel Program, will help the port make additional reductions in diesel fuel use, along with diesel particulate matter, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide – pollutants that can significantly impact human health and the environment. Said U.S. Senator Ben Cardin:

Less pollution is good for business and better for the public health. The Port of Baltimore has consistently sought out ways to improve its environmental sustainability and the EPA has repeatedly proven itself to be a strong partner in these efforts. I appreciate their shared commitment to finding new ways to reduce diesel use and emissions, which are known to have significant impacts on public health, especially in children. These types of joint efforts are a powerful way to expand the benefits of investments in pollution-control technologies and are to be strongly applauded.

Point Source Nutrient Credit Trading Getting Closer…

As previously reported on Conduit Street, the Water Quality Trading Advisory Committee has been working on a draft practices manual that will cover how nutrient credit trading will work in Maryland. A subset of Advisory Committee members met on October 5 to specifically review Section II of the draft manual, which covers point source trading (primarily trades from wastewater treatment plants (WTTPs) for stormwater management requirements). MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp attended the meeting.

Several stakeholders raised concerns about making sure that the credit system established by the Advisory Committee synchronized with assumptions contained in a county’s 10-year water and sewer plan. While most of the envisioned trades would be short term/non-permanent, WTTP advocates stressed the importance of maintaining flexibility for permanent trades as future municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) permit requirements remain unknown.

Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) representatives also discussed how point source credits would be measured and tracked, noting that WWTPs will be subject to both a waste load allocation (based on nutrient flow) and a floating cap (based on nutrient concentration). The derived credits could either be capacity or performance-based. Tracking tools will include two interconnected Environmental Protection Agency programs: (1) Enforcement Compliance History Online (ECHO); and (2) the Integrated Compliance Information System (ICIS).

Other concerns raised during the meeting dealt with the appropriate percentage of credits that should be “retired” during each trade (a safety factor), expressing MS4 permit targets by nutrient loads as opposed to impervious surface reduction and retrofit, allowing point source credits into the same market with nonpoint source (agricultural) credits, and how to allow trading under an MS4 permit.

Final comments on the Section II draft are due October 13. The Advisory Committee plans on finalizing the entire trading practices manual by the end of the year. For further information or questions, contact Les Knapp at 410.269.0043 or

Useful Links

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of the Advisory Committee

Pennsylvania, Federal Government Commit Funding for Keystone State’s Bay Restoration Effort

A Bay Journal article (2016-10-04) reported that Pennsylvania and the federal government are pledging $28 million in additional funding to address the state’s lagging Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts. As previously reported on Conduit Street, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found Pennsylvania has consistently fallen short of its Bay restoration targets. Maryland is affected by agricultural runoff from Pennsylvania coming down the Susquehanna River and through the Conowingo Dam. From the article:

“I think Pennsylvania has some explaining to do,” confessed Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, who was making his first appearance at an annual meeting of the federal-state Bay Program’s Chesapeake Executive Council.

Wolf, who laid his state’s laggardness on his predecessors, said that largely by shifting around funds in his budget he would put an additional $11.8 million toward a variety of efforts to get more Pennsylvania farmers to apply conservation practices on their lands.

Federal officials, in turn, announced they’d commit more funds to Pennsylvania. Robert Bonnie, undersecretary for natural resources and the environment at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said the USDA would funnel $12.7 million more for farm conservation efforts in the state. And U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said her agency is providing an additional $4 million to help the state with its cleanup activities.

“That is not chump change,” McCarthy said of the combined total.

While stakeholders expressed support for the additional funding, several noted that there is still a significant amount of work ahead for Pennsylvania and all Bay states:

Maryland State Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, the Bay Commission’s chairman, pointed out that Pennsylvania has already spent about $4 billion on Bay restoration efforts since the 1980s but still is a long way from achieving the pollution reductions needed to improve Bay water quality. About 55 percent of all the nitrogen contributing to the Chesapeake’s algae blooms and oxygen-starved “dead zones,” Middleton noted, comes from Pennsylvania farmers.

“Pennsylvania’s farmers are making progress, but there is a lot of ground to make up,” he said in remarks prepared for the council meeting. …

“The really good news is that this is exactly the right time to be putting more money into restoration,” Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William Baker said, “when we’re seeing progress.” He warned against the “Lake Erie effect,” in which he said funding for cleaning up one of the Great Lakes fell off just as the effort appeared to be succeeding, and the water body declined again.

Useful Links

Prior Conduit Street Coverage

Sustainable Maryland Workshops: Using Your Data to Make Good Decisions

Sustainable Maryland is offering a leadership training workshop for local government officials on how to collect and use data to make informed land use and sustainability decisions and subsequently track program progress and outcomes. The workshop will be held in mid-November at three different locations in the state. Registration costs $35.00 and includes breakfast, lunch, parking, and program materials.  MACo is a co-sponsor of this event. From a Sustainable Maryland email announcement:

Leadership Training Workshops on Sustainability Metrics: Measuring What Matters 


You’ve heard of “big data” and the importance of measuring your community’s progress, but how does that practically work at the local level? Come learn about how you can start harnessing the data that flows through your community’s infrastructure and programs and translate it into meaningful metrics.

Our upcoming Leadership Training workshops will provide you with:

  • Introduction to Data Collection:
    • the importance of tracking data for process improvement, attracting funders, and justifying programs to residents
    • the importance of knowing your audience and your goals
    • the importance of collecting different types of data. Qualitative vs. Quantitative
    • examples of communities who have data tracking programs or processes.
  • Tools and Resources: A review of data tracking tools and resources that communities can easily apply to their programs. Various topic areas will include: Energy, Stormwater, Tree Cover, Waste, Finances, Volunteers.
  • Visualizing Data: The importance of storytelling, infographics, social media, and transparency.

3 DATES / 3 LOCATIONSSAME GREAT PROGRAM! Choose the most convenient date/location:

Monday, November 14, 9:00am – 4:00pm

Location: Cambridge Public Safety Building, Cambridge


Wednesday, November 16, 9:00am – 4:00pm

Location: Hyattsville City Hall, Hyattsville


Thursday, November 17, 9:00am – 4:00pm

Location: University System of Maryland at Hagerstown


A detailed agenda will be provided on October 24. If you have any questions, contact Mike Hunninghake at or 301-405-7956.

Useful Links

Sustainable Maryland Website