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



Forest Conservation, Renewable Energy Among Key Priorities at 2018 Environmental Summit

Once again it was standing room only at the 24th annual Maryland Environmental Legislative Summit as the environmental community unveiled its key legislative initiatives for the 2018 Session. The initiatives include: (1) reforming the Forest Conservation Act; (2) increasing the State’s Renewable Portfolio Standard and providing clean energy jobs training; (3) increasing the transparency of the Public Service Commission; (4) ensuring adequate funding in the State budget for environmental enforcement; and (5) enacting a statewide Styrofoam ban. The Summit was held on January 18, 2018, in the Miller Senate Office Building in Annapolis.

Many of Maryland’s top elected and environmental officials made opening remarks. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller; Speaker of the House Michael Busch, and Maryland Secretary of the Environment Benjamin Grumbles all praised Maryland’s approach to environmental issues but each also highlighted an issue that remains an ongoing challenge. Miller mentioned environmental policy rollbacks and budget cuts happening at the federal level, Busch argued against offshore drilling, while Grumbles discussed climate change. House Environment and Transportation Committee Chair Kumar Barve discussed energy issues and water quality and noted, “Stormwater is the fastest growing form of [water] pollution in Maryland.” Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee Chair Joan Carter Conway expressed her support of the environmentalists’ legislative agenda.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh directed his comments towards the federal government, characterizing the Administration of President Donald Trump as an “enormous threat” to the environment and United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt as a “lapdog of the fossil fuel industry.” Frosh noted the many lawsuits Maryland has brought against the EPA and also criticized the recent federal offshore drilling proposals.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation President Will Baker made three key points in his comments: (1) Maryland environmentalists well organized; (2) forest conservation in Maryland must be strengthened; and (3) while there has been significant progress made in restoring the Chesapeake Bay, there is still much work that must be done.

Center for Climate Change and Energy Solutions President Bob Perciasepe served as the keynote speaker and offered a national and global perspective on energy and climate issues. Perciasepe was followed by speakers from different environmental groups who each discussed one of the five environmental priorities for the 2018 Session. A more detailed description of each priority can be found in the Summit’s agenda (linked below).

Useful Links

2018 Environmental Summit Agenda and Priority Descriptions

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of the Maryland Environmental Summit

MOST Center Videos Help Local Leaders Solve Environmental Challenges

The Municipal Online Stormwater Training (MOST) Center is pleased to release the first in a series of new videos designed to help local governments design innovative solutions for a variety of environmental challenges related to stormwater management and water quality. The MOST Center was created by a partnership between the University of Maryland Environmental Finance Center and the Low Impact Development Center, Inc. and funded through a five-year National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Grant. MOST Center materials are available to local government officials online at no charge.

From an email announcement (2018-01-16):

The MOST Center is pleased to announce the debut of our newest video series “Local Leaders: Innovative Approaches to Solve Environmental Challenges” which showcases examples of local governments forging creative solutions to complex environmental problems. Featuring experts within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, these perspectives highlight ways that municipal leaders can defy long-held assumptions, build relationships with nontraditional partners, and push the envelope to achieve better results for their communities.

The first video “Inclusive Planning: Sharing Power to Build Resilience in Baltimore” features Kristin Baja, sharing her perspective as the (former) Climate Resilience Planner at the Baltimore Office of Sustainability. This conversation explores the city’s pioneering equity-driven approach to proactively engage those most affected by public policies. Discussing the city’s vulnerability to climate impacts along with the importance of power sharing, public accountability, and continuous engagement, Baltimore’s climate action planning process is a model for other jurisdictions seeking to partner in a meaningful way with private citizens to advance shared priorities.

In addition to its new video series, the MOST Center released a prior series on public-private partnerships.

Useful Links

MOST Center Videos for Local Leaders (must setup a free login account)

MOST Center Website

MOST Center Fact Sheet

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of the MOST Center

China Recycling Ban Stresses US Recyclers

Public Radio International (PRI) article (2018-01-01) discussed local government impacts on China’s recent restrictions on the importation of foreign recyclables. As previously reported on Conduit Street, China has instituted strict new contamination limits and bans on certain types foreign recycled materials effective January 1, 2018. The policy, dubbed “National Sword,” affects local governments throughout the United States as China is a major importer of their recyclable materials. From the article:

“We’re looking at 150 to 200 tractor trailer loads of paper. It’s stacked approximately 12 feet high, and it goes for quite a distance,” says Ben Harvey, president of E.L. Harvey & Sons, a family-run business since 1911. …

Harvey can’t sell the 2,000-pound bales to China because the contamination levels — the trash that’s accidentally mixed in, something like the remnants of a greasy pizza box that gets thrown in with the recycling — almost certainly exceed China’s rigorous new standards. …

“This is not a little disruption,” says Susan Collins, president of the Container Recycling Institute, a research organization based in Southern California. “This is a big disruption to a bigger industry than most people would think it is, because it’s sort of an invisible process. You put your stuff out at the curb, and it goes away — nobody thinks about it as being a multibillion industry in this country.” …

Collins says US recyclers are willing to adjust, but they need time.

The article stated that until recycling processing facilities can be developed in the United States (a 3-5 year process) many recycling programs may have to either refuse to accept materials such as paper, cans or bottles or dispose them in landfills.


Useful Links

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of China Recycling Changes

U.S. Senate Hearing Focuses on Water Infrastructure Needs, Local Role

The National Association of Counties representative testifies before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works full committee hearing, “America’s Water Infrastructure Needs and Challenges.”

NACo Associate Legislative Director Julie Ufner testifies before the U.S. Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee to discuss the role counties play in strengthening America’s water infrastructure, and the importance of the Water Resources Development Act to counties as they fulfill our water resources responsibilities.

MACo’s 2018 Summer Conference will focus on all the ways counties work with water. Mark your calendars and join us on August 15-18, 2018 to discuss “Water, Water, Everywhere.”

From the health of the Bay and Maryland’s waterways to the infrastructure, treatment, and regulations that ensure safe and healthy water flows through our pipes, county governments are keeping our residents afloat. Conference sessions will discuss the Bay, water infrastructure, watermen and oyster/fishery/habitat issues, floods and other natural disasters, and ways to put the wind back in the sails of a tight budget.


Towson Lawmakers’ 2018 Session Package: Sex Offenders, Septics, Predatory Loans & Business Taxes

Baltimore Sun article (2018-01-03) reported on the 2018 legislative initiatives for state legislators who represent the Towson area in Baltimore County. Highlights include legislation on sexual offenders, use of best available technology for nitrogen removal (BAT) septic systems, curtailing predatory loans, and lowering business taxes.

Senator Jim Brochin

[photo, James Brochin, Maryland State Senator]
Source: Maryland Manual
The article noted that Brochin is not running for Senate again and instead run for Baltimore County Executive.

Sexual Predators – Admissibility of Prior Acts: The article stated that Brochin’s top priority will be the Repeat Sexual Predator Prevention Act. The bill would allow evidence of prior sexual misconduct to be admitted as evidence in cases showing a pattern of sexual assault or child molestation. Previous versions of the bill have passed the Senate three times but have never passed in the House.

“There have been horror stories of the same perpetrators getting away with stuff like this for years, and I think it’s time to balance the scales of justice,” Brochin said. “We have put safeguards in the legislation to protect the accused, and we think we can get it through the Senate again, but the tricky part will be getting it past the House.”

Juvenile Sentencing: Brochin will also be sponsoring legislation that allows a juvenile convicted of a crime other than murder or rape the option of entering into a diversionary program rather than serving a sentence. The program would provide classes, group counseling, and psychiatric services.
Pharmaceutical Company Lawsuits: Brochin will also support legislation allowing Maryland to sue pharmaceutical companies for price gouging.

Delegate Steve Lafferty

[photo, Stephen W. Lafferty, Maryland State Delegate]
Source: Maryland Manual
Use of BAT Septic Systems: The article indicated that Lafferty would introducing legislation concerning the use of BAT septic systems. One potential proposal would require BAT septics for new construction within 1,000 feet of an impaired stream or waterway. Current law requires BAT septics within the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Critical Areas.

Funding for Community Development Groups (CDCs): Lafferty is also working on creating a funding mechanism for CDCs for housing and park revitalization.


“The idea is to set up a fund in a state agency that would make funds available to community development groups,” he said. “Money would not go to individuals but to established organizations.” The money could be used for such community-based efforts as housing repair and renovation, improving parks, or providing job training or child care.

Delegate Susan Aumann

[photo, Susan L. M. Aumann, Maryland State Delegate]
Source: Maryland Manual
The article noted that Aumann will not be running for re-election.

Predatory Lending Practices: Aumann plans on introducing legislation to lower the maximum interest rate an in-state institution may charge on a loan from 34 percent to 28 percent.

The Republican lawmaker, who is a member of the Maryland Financial Consumer Protection Commission, said she will work with the attorney general to rein in out-of-state lenders’ rates as well, which, she said, can sometimes reach triple figures.

“People need to know what they’re getting into,” she said, adding that some lenders “take rates to astronomical levels.”

Delegate Chris West

[photo, Christopher R. West, Maryland State Delegate]
Source: Maryland Manual
The article stated that West is running for Brochin’s soon-to-be-vacant Senate seat.

Juvenile Sentencing: West will be cross-filing the same bill that is being introduced by Brochin.

Homeowner Association Covenants: West also plans to introduce legislation that would eliminate racially exclusive covenants for homeowner associations. This would require existing covenants to be amended.

Lower Corporate Taxes: West will have legislation incrementally lowering the corporate tax rate from 8.25 percent to 6 percent over 9 years.

“I’m trying to close the gap between Virginia and Maryland,” said West, who lives in Towson. “Too many times corporations moving into the area relocate to Virginia because it has a lower corporate rate. We want to take that part out of the decision-making process so that Maryland will be on an equal footing with Virginia.”

Physician Certification: Finally, West will be introducing a bill prohibiting hospitals from denying privileges to physicians that are not certified by a national organization so long as they were certified by the Maryland Medical Association

Useful Links

Senator Jim Brochin Webpage

Delgate Steve Lafferty Webpage

Delegate Susan Aumann Webpage

Delegate Chris West Webpage

Chesapeake Bay Water Quality Standards Near Record Highs for Aquatic Habitat, Still Struggling With Nutrients

Bay Journal article (2017-12-15) reported that for the 2014-2016 period, Chesapeake Bay water quality standards for clarity, dissolved oxygen, algae concentrations and Bay grasses remained at near record highs since the standards first began to be monitored in 1985. The results were announced by Chesapeake Progress, a monitoring and information arm of the Chesapeake Bay Program.

The 2014-2016 numbers indicated that 39.2 percent of the Bay was healthy enough to support Bay creatures (worms, shellfish, fish). The numbers nearly tie the all-time record established during the 2008-2010 reporting period when 39.5 percent of the Chesapeake met the standards. From the article:

Officials said the numbers show that decades-long cleanup efforts have improved conditions in recent years, including a record-high abundance of underwater grasses, a key indicator of the estuary’s health. Still, Bay Program officials and environmental advocates alike noted that the latest figures show that 60 percent of the Bay falls short of water quality objectives.

“While these improving trends are encouraging, we must ramp up our efforts to implement pollution control measures to ensure progress toward 100 percent of the water-quality standards is achieved throughout the Bay and its tidal waters,” said Nick DiPasquale, director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Bay Program Office.

However, the article also noted that other recent data released by the U.S. Geological Survey showed that the Bay and its tributaries are still struggling with nitrogen and phosphorus loading and do not appear on track to fully meet the 2025 Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) targets for those nutrients:

That lag seems to be confirmed by separate water-quality data released this week by the U.S. Geological Survey, which showed that among the Bay’s nine largest tributaries, four had improving nitrogen levels, four were getting worse, and one had no trend over the last decade.

For phosphorus, the other key nutrient, only one tributary — the Patuxent River in Maryland — showed improvement, while five got worse and three had no trend.

“Our water is getting cleaner, leading to smaller dead zones and more Bay grasses and oysters,” said Beth McGee, Chesapeake Bay Foundation director of science and agricultural policy. “But water quality still has to improve in 60 percent of the Bay, meaning that we can’t take our foot off the gas pedal. We need increased efforts from both the states and federal government.” …

“Robust funding, science, and stewardship are paying off and cleaning up the Bay, but we still have a long way to go,” said Ben Grumbles, secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment.

Useful Links

2014-2016 Chesapeake Bay Monitoring Data by Chesapeake Progress

U.S. Geological Survey Chesapeake Bay Nontidal Tributary Monitoring

Smart LED Streetlights Bring Many Benefits Besides Reduced Energy Bills

Sustainable City Network article (2018-01-01) highlighted the numerous benefits an light emitting diode (LED) “smart” streetlight system can provide to counties and municipalities. The article explained how the benefits go beyond savings in energy bills and include.

As a case study, the article cited the experience of Anchorage, Alaska, which replaced about 4,000 high-pressure sodium streetlights with smart LED lights. The lights are connected to a wireless control network.  The city estimates the $3.4 million dollar upgrade will result in a savings of at least $400,000 per year on energy and maintenance, paying for itself in less than 9 years. From the article:

Gary Agron, division manager of engineering at Municipal Light & Power (ML&P) in Anchorage, said when someone reported that a light had burned out, the first thing staff had to do was go through GIS records to figure out who owned the light – not an easy task when there are at least 11 possibilities, including the city’s park, transit, and street maintenance departments, as well as state agencies, two adjacent utilities, the Alaska Railroad, and others. Only then, could the appropriate agency be dispatched to repair the light.

Now, not only can Agron tell you how many lights ML&P owns, but with a few clicks of a mouse or taps on a mobile device, he can tell you exactly where each light is located, which agency is responsible for it, whether it’s on or off, its intensity, how much energy it’s consuming and the fixture’s “health status.” And, operators can control individual lights or selected groups of fixtures within seconds.

However, city officials are equally excited by the public safety and quality of life benefits the new lights can provide:

“Let’s say the SWAT team wants to turn off a bunch of lights in a neighborhood where they’re going to do an operation,” Agron said. While law enforcement has been known to literally shoot out the lights when they wanted an area to go dark, “now all they have to do is call us and I can remotely access my light grid and go click, click, click, and all those lights go off.”

In another example, Agron said, if authorities are looking for a lost child, the brightness of the lights in a specific neighborhood could potentially be turned up to assist in the search. …

“For example, our parks department knows there’s nobody out on their trails in the winter between midnight and 5 a.m., so they can dim all those lights down to 30 percent during those hours and save a lot of energy. The same goes for their golf course, where people go cross-country skiing in the winter. Nobody’s out there at midnight. Why have those lights on all the time?”

Another example Agron cited is the Port of Anchorage. Security lights can be turned on when there are trucks and equipment moving containers in and out, and turned down or off when no port operations are in progress.

The article also discussed the city’s criteria and selection process for the lighting system and its resident outreach and education efforts prior to the lighting upgrade. Additionally, Agron will be part of a 1-hour Smart LED streetlight webinar hosted by Sustainable City Network. The webinar will be on January 25, 2018, and there is no charge to participate.

Useful Links

Register for or get recording of Sustainable City Network LED Streetlight Webinar

China’s New “Foreign Waste” Policy Poses Challenge For Local Recycling

Governing article (2018-01) reported that China has instituted a new “foreign waste” policy that essentially bans dozens of materials that can contain dirty or hazardous wastes. The ban includes contamination by food remnants. The ban is expected to affect state and local recycling programs throughout the United States, as China has been the largest importer of recyclable materials. The article noted that the United States exports about 66 percent of it recyclable paper and more than 40 percent of its recyclable plastic to China for processing. Instead, China will focus on processing recyclable materials collected from within its own boundaries. From the article:

In a statement on its website, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality said the announcement, “coupled with earlier import restrictions on these materials, has severely disrupted recycling markets worldwide with major impacts in Oregon.” The Washington State Department of Ecology struck a similar note. “In the short term,” a statement on its website read, “more potentially recyclable materials are likely to go to the landfill because no market is available for them.” But both agencies urged residents to continue recycling as normal.

However, the article also noted that while posing a significant challenge to U.S. recycling programs, the ban also provided some opportunities. For example, local paper mils that use wastepaper to make cardboard and other products will have a larger amount of material to utilize. The ban will also force local governments to create alternative waste disposal and diversion methods and address longstanding contamination issues for recyclable materials. From the article:

In addition to a business opportunity, the decision could boost municipal programs. Phoenix’s waste innovation hub, the Resource Innovation Campus, focuses on what city leaders call the “5 R’s”: reduce, reuse, recycle, reconsider and reimagine….While China’s ban will certainly affect the city’s recycling efforts, it also plays into the hub’s larger goals of reusing and reimagining waste. “If you can come up with a way to use Phoenix’s garbage,” Mayor Greg Stanton said recently at a Governing event, “it’s yours.”

But perhaps the biggest opportunity, observers say, is for cities and recyclers to finally address the contamination issue that led in large part to China’s ban. U.S. consumers regularly throw unrecyclable materials into their curbside bins: items that range from the mundane — plastic forks, metal coat hangers, trash bags and even food waste — to the outrageous — diapers, syringes, appliances, bowling balls, doggie beds. In most cities, about 30 percent or more of what residents throw into their recycling bins cannot be recycled as is or at all. To fix the problem, more and more cities have been launching “recycle often, recycle right” campaigns to educate residents on what’s recyclable and what’s not. If they don’t want to see their hard work end up in a landfill, they might have to step up those efforts.