Registration Now Open: Maryland Land Conservation Conference – June 8

Registration is now open for the 2017 Maryland Land Conservation Conference that will be held June 8 at Pearlstone Conference and Retreat Center in Reisterstown, MD. This year’s conference theme is Thinking Broadly & Engaging Community – Strengthening Land Trusts for the Next Century and will feature diverse workshops and presentations that address the challenges and opportunities facing Maryland’s conservation community.

Early bird registration is $70 through Noon on April 17th. Click here to register.

The conference provides opportunity for land trusts, conservancies, local and state government agencies, heritage organizations, members of the agricultural community and other partners to network and exchange new ideas about the future of land conservation in the region. Registration includes continental breakfast, lunch, refreshments and educational sessions.

A copy of the preliminary conference program will be available soon.

Join MET for a full day of educational workshops, innovative discussions and peer-to-peer networking. For registration questions or more information about the 2017 Maryland Land Conservation Conference, please contact Tracy at metoutreach.dnr@maryland.gov.

Maryland “Fracking” Ban Looming as Likely

The Senate Committee on Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs has passed legislation to ban hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) as a means of extraction in Maryland, setting the stage for a statewide ban on the practice. Governor Hogan’s announcement of his support late last week has triggered this new direction in the session-long debate.

From coverage in US News & World Report:

Throughout Maryland’s 2017 legislative session, there has been debate over whether to ban the drilling practice known as fracking indefinitely or to put another two-year moratorium in place.

The House passed a veto-proof majority bill on March 10 that would install a permanent statewide fracking ban. A House bill identical to one sponsored by state Sen. Robert “Bobby” Zirkin has cleared the Senate Education, Health and Environment Committee.

Because of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s previous support for natural gas drilling if done safely, the Senate committee’s chair, Sen. Joan Carter Conway of Baltimore City, told reporters that, while she would support the ban, she did not think it was worth bringing to a floor vote without a veto-proof majority.

Conway’s committee voted 8-3 Wednesday to advance the bill to the Senate floor, making a floor vote possible as soon as this or early next week. According to legislators and activist groups, the ban has the needed majority support in the Senate.

CBF Cites Value of Trees in Forest Conservation Act Op-Ed

In a Washington Post op-ed (2017-03-21), Chesapeake Bay Foundation Executive Director Alison Prost argues for legislation (HB 599 / SB 365) that would create significant new replanting and fee in lieu requirements under the Maryland Forest Conservation Act (FCA). MACo and the Maryland Municipal League are opposed to the bill, noting that Maryland’s total forest and tree canopy management efforts need to be considered and that the organizations are open to a balanced task force regarding the issue. In the op-ed, Prost focuses solely on the FCA and discusses the benefits trees provide. From the op-ed:

The FCA is not getting the job done. Too little forest is being conserved in Maryland. …

Developers are trying to block the legislation, claiming replanting would increase costs. Some local governments have joined in that lament.

But those same local governments have far more to lose from doing nothing. Forests provide counties billions of dollars in ecosystem services. The forests of Prince George’s County, for instance, remove 4.3 billion gallons of polluted runoff a year. If taxpayers had to provide those services, the cost would be $12.8 billion, according to a 2015 study by the Low Impact Development Center in Beltsville. The same forests also remove 5,100 metric tons of airborne pollutants, a service worth $21 million.

And some benefits cannot be adequately measured in dollars. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service says one acre of forest provides oxygen for 18 people for one day. What is the economic value of that? What is the cost of Maryland losing an average of at least 1,800 acres of forests a year?

It’s bad economics to allow developers to cut so much forest and eliminate so much of the public benefit of those trees without adequate compensation. It’s bad health and environmental policy.

Useful Links
HB 599 / SB 365 of 2017

 

 

2017 Mid-Session Update: Recycling Bills Moving

Three recycling bills on which MACo took a position are poised to pass the General Assembly with MACo support with amendments that removed MACo’s opposition.

Recycling – Regulation of Recycling Facilities: HB 124 requires the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to adopt regulations governing recycling facilities, in consultation with MACo and other key stakeholders. The regulations would allow for a tiered system of permits to cover different sizes and types of recycling facilities. The bill also alters the definition of “solid waste.”

MACo Position: MACo supported the bill with amendments, noting that recycling facilities are handling increasing amounts of unrecyclable solid waste through the single stream process, they are at risk of needing a solid waste disposal permit – an expensive and cumbersome requirement that was never intended to apply to them. HB 124 would allow MDE to adopt a tiered system of permits that allow for more appropriate regulation of these facilities. The MACo amendment excluded residential recycling drop-off facilities, as they simply serve as collection points for recyclable materials and do not actually handle or process materials beyond collecting and shipping them to a recycling facility.

STATUS: The House passed HB 124 with the MACo amendment and an amendment removing the quantity of material managed as a criteria for MDE to consider when establishing the tiered system of permits. The Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee will hear the bill on March 23.

MACo Testimony on HB 124

Recycling – Yard, Food, and Organic Waste Composting Study: HB 171 / SB 99 requires MDE to conduct a study regarding the diversion and composting of yard waste and food residuals.  The study must include: (1) identification properties or development zones where diversion infrastructure may be developed; (2) tax or other incentives to promote composting; (3) a recommendation for a refuse disposal fee that would finance a grant program to assist with composting infrastructure; and (4) a recommendation on necessary programmatic, legislative, or regulatory changes to encourage composting.

MACo Position: MACo supported the bill with five amendments that would have the study:

  1. Identify the infrastructure needs and challenges related to yard waste and food residuals composting and diversion unique to the different geographic regions of the state;
  2. Identify any applicable sanitary and public health concerns related to yard waste and food residuals composting and diversion;
  3. Develop, in consultation with local governments, model guidelines and best practices for the local identification of properties or development zones where diversion infrastructure may be developed instead of having MDE assume a land use role by making such identifications itself;
  4. Consider a refuse disposal fee instead of automatically recommending such a fee; and
  5. Receive the approval of the affected local governments before recommending a pilot food waste recovery program in the Elkridge and Jessup areas.

STATUS: HB 171 and SB 99 each passed their respective houses with the MACo amendments (the refuse disposal fee language was deleted in its entirety) and several other stakeholder amendments MACo had no issue with. HB 171 will be scheduled for a hearing before the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee. SB 99 will be heard by the House Environment and Transportation Committee on March 22.

MACo Testimony on HB 171

MACo Testimony on SB 99

Recycling – Special Events: HB 1309 / SB 885 as introduced would require a county and municipal government that issues a special event permit to also enforce recycling requirements at the event. The bill also lowers the threshold for the application of special events recycling requirements from 200 people to 100 people, increases the civil penalties for violating the recycling requirements, and makes the amount of the penalty contingent on attendance.

 MACo Position: MACo opposed the bill, noting the cost and implementation issues of the local enforcement mandate, the problematic expansion of “special events” by lowering the attendance threshold from 200 to 100 people, and challenges in enforcing the civil penalties due to a lack of reliable attendance data.

STATUS: HB 1309 and SB 885 passed their respective houses with identical amendments removing  MACo’s opposition. As amended, the bill: (1) Requires the State, county, municipality, or other local government to provide the organizer of a special event a written statement that describes the requirements and penalties for special event recycling; and (2) increases the civil penalty from failing to recycle at a special event from $50 per day to $300 per day. HB 1309 will be scheduled for a hearing before the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee. SB 885 will be heard by the House Environment and Transportation Committee on March 29.

MACo Testimony on HB 1309

MACo Testimony on SB 885

President Trump’s Budget Proposal Carries Big MD Effects

President Trump’s proposed federal budget has triggered a wide range of reactions, including some local concerns about effects on the Maryland workforce, environment, and numerous other areas. While federal actions are far from certain, this debate does carry over into the state political arena in several ways.

A Baltimore Sun article covers the story, with significant focus on federal funds for the Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts, but touches on the wider picture as well:

In Maryland, a state where the economy is closely tied to federal spending, the $1.15 trillion budget could put thousands of civilian government employees out of work but also boost defense activity in the state. Urban development and road projects in Baltimore could be put on hold while additional money may be set aside for addiction treatment.

The proposal, which faces opposition in Congress, underscores the administration’s desire to limit the federal government’s reach into housing, the environment and safety-net programs, while vastly increasing investments in the military and homeland security — all of which reflect promises Trump made during his campaign.

The federal budget process is dramatically different than that in Maryland State government. While the state and many larger counties use what is often referenced as an “Executive Budget” system, where the General Assembly may cut but not add funding, the federal government’s budget process is more legislatively-driven. The President’s proposals represent the Administration’s priorities, but are not materially binding on the Congress. Debate on the budget plan, and the multiple appropriations bills that represent the federal budget, will extend for months.

Wide coverage of multiple news sources discussing the Maryland and political effects of the proposed budget can be found on the Maryland Reporter site, which offers a daily harvest of Maryland news and political coverage.

MACo: Give Counties Greater Role in Energy Siting

MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp testified in favor of Senate Bill 851, “Public Service Commission – Application for Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity – Consistency With Comprehensive Plan” on March 14, 2017. The bill was heard before the Senate Finance Committee and was sponsored by Senator Justin Ready.

This bill would require the Public Service Commission (PSC), upon receipt of an application for a certificate of public convenience and necessity for a generation station or high voltage overhead transmission line, to send the application materials to each local government where the project will be located so that the local government could determine whether the application is consistent with its comprehensive plan. Each local government must review the application materials and determine whether the application is consistent with its comprehensive plan per § 1-303 of the Land Use Article. If the local government determines that the application is not consistent, then the PSC may not hold a public hearing or move forward on the application.

MACo’s testimony states,

Maryland is nationally recognized as a state that embraces robust long-term comprehensive planning and Smart Growth. Counties set development plans; agriculture, open space, and historic preservation goals; and environmental protection targets within their comprehensive plans and related planning tools. These plans and goals are all designed to properly manage long-term growth and preserve the unique identities of Maryland’s diverse communities. However, energy generation facilities are not subject to the same land use planning requirements.

Instead, energy facility siting is based on decades-old law that envisions small and relatively compact facilities like coal, oil, and nuclear plants as primary energy generators. But increasingly, energy generation is becoming more “dispersed” as technologies like solar, wind, biomass, and gasification are now poised to be primary generators. These technologies bring many advantages but also some drawbacks – including a need for significant amounts of open space.

According to the Nature Conservancy, energy development now consumes more open space in the United States than residential, commercial, and industrial development. Maryland is seeing a “gold rush” as energy companies are optioning thousands of acres, regardless of local government plans and needs. Over 3,000 acres are already in the development pipeline for large-scale solar facilities alone. SB 851 would solidify a needed local government voice in how the state’s energy landscape develops.

The cross-file to the bill, HB 1350, sponsored by Delegate April Rose, was heard by the House Economic Matters Committee on March 9, 2017. Click here for previous Conduit Street coverage.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

MACo Advocates for Local Zoning Authority of Large Energy Generation Facilities

MACo Legal and Policy Counsel, Les Knapp, testified in favor of Senate Bill 931, “Local Jurisdictions – Zoning Authority – Generating Stations” on March 14, 2017 in front of the Senate Finance Committee. Senators John Astle and Stephen Hershey sponsored the bill.

SB 931 would give a voice to the communities and local governments in the zoning process for properly siting large-scale energy generation facilities and would strike a reasonable balance between long-term land use planning and the need for utility-scale energy generation facilities.

MACo’s testimony states,

SB 931 would allow counties and municipalities with zoning authority to enact binding zoning for utility-scale energy generation facilities that need to obtain a certificate of public convenience and necessity from the Public Service Commission (PSC) or have a generation capacity of at least 2 megawatts. Community or small-scale projects are unaffected.

In order for a local government’s zoning to be binding, the local government must engage in an “enhanced” zoning process for each energy generation technology it wishes to zone for – including meeting with appropriate energy developer representatives and incorporating factors identified by the PSC as important to that energy generation technology. For the zoning to be binding, a local government must generate viable project sites and cannot simply ban a particular technology.

Currently, there is a disconnect between laws governing the siting of energy facilities and laws governing land use planning.

SB 931 would solidify a needed local government voice in how the state’s energy landscape develops. Despite several recent decisions by the PSC that found in favor of local governments over proposed energy sites in Kent and Allegany Counties, the decisions made it very clear that the PSC retains its preemption authority over local zoning and that the decisions were based on the specific facts of the case. The finding could be different in the next case. A systemic solution is still needed.

SB 931 attempts to provide a solution by requiring local governments that wish to enact binding zoning to ensure they generate viable project sites while still giving the PSC the authority to override local zoning for grid integrity issues. The bill also moves local participation toward the start of the siting process, which will help provide more certainty both to citizens and energy developers. Otherwise, it is likely that contentious siting battles and costly litigation will continue.

Joining Mr. Knapp in testifying on SB 931 were:

  • Mary Kay Verdery (Talbot County)
  • Mike Pullen (Talbot County)
  • Bill Jorch (Maryland Municipal League)
  • Candace Donoho (Maryland Municipal League)

The cross-file to the bill, HB 1592, is currently in the House Rules and Executive Nominations Committee.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

CBC Releases 2016 Annual Report – Program Open Space, Conowingo Dam Among Key Issues

The Chesapeake Bay Commission (CBC) released its annul report for 2016. The report offered a short appraisal of the CBC’s work on Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts in each member state, an assessment on overall Bay restoration progress, and a critique of ongoing challenges. Program Open Space (POS) was highlighted as a key issue in Maryland while the Susquehanna River/Conowingo Dam nutrient and sediment trapping problem was noted as a key challenge.

The CBC is a partnership between Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia to advise and address issues that affect the entirety of the Chesapeake Bay. Members include legislators and cabinet secretaries from each state, as well as a United States Navy liaison. Each member state is represented among three leadership positions – including a chair and two vice-chairs. Maryland Senator Thomas McLain “Mac” Middleton served as the CBC Chair for 2016. For 2017, Maryland Delegate Tawanna Gaines is serving in a Vice-Chair capacity.

From the report’s summary of CBC activities in Maryland:

With Maryland on-track to meet its 2017 water quality goals under the TMDL, Commission members focused on maintaining that progress by supporting land conservation. Maryland’s Program Open Space (POS) preserves natural areas, protects historic places, and develops parks. Full funding of POS and other land conservation programs is critical to achieving the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement goal to preserve an additional 2 million acres by 2025. Unfortunately, recent state budgets have diverted funding from POS to Maryland’s General Fund.

After working with a broad group of stakeholders, Commission members effectively sponsored legislation to repay $90 million in previous POS diversions. The bill also requires repayment of any future diversions.

In other budget-related matters, the Commission worked to fully fund the state Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund, which supports agricultural and other nonpoint source best management practices, a first in the Fund’s ten-year history.

Despite noting favorable progress on Bay restoration efforts, including having no anoxic (without oxygen) Bay areas for the first time in 30 years, the report stressed that ongoing challenges continue to exist, including population growth, agricultural pollution, and climate change. Also noted was the disappearing capacity of various Susquehanna River dams to trap nutrients and sediment:

But perhaps the largest threat lies in the nutrients and sediment accumulating behind three large hydroelectric dams on the Lower Susquehanna. Each dam has created a giant settling pond upstream, storing sediment and associated nutrients. Over decades, the reservoir behind each dam has filled with this material, first at Safe Harbor, then Holtwood and now Conowingo.

The loss of trapping capacity at Conowingo, the final dam in the sequence, has caused the entire Lower Susquehanna to be in a state of “dynamic equilibrium.” The loads-in now equal the loads-out.

The sediment and phosphorus that previously were trapped are now flowing downstream unimpeded. Therefore, despite reductions upstream, the loads at Conowingo have increased, at least temporarily.

So long as the inputs upstream of the Conowingo Dam continue to decrease, the Susquehanna’s loads to the Bay will ultimately decrease. But this will take expanded efforts, new funding and time. In the meantime, who will take responsibility for the pollutant loads no longer captured by the dam?

Useful Links

CBC 2016 annual report

CBC Website

Senator Middleton Webpage

Delegate Gaines Webpage

Senate on Septics: BAT Mandate Out, Funding Priorities In

SB 266, the high profile legislation seeking to reinstate the statewide requirement for “best available technology” septics systems, has been heavily amended on the Senate floor. Following more than a week of debate, including one preliminary vote defeating the original bill, the final version of the Senate bill no longer imposes that mandate, and instead addresses funding priorities for the Bay Restoration Fund, and charges the state’s Chesapeake Kay Subcabinet with studying nitrogen reduction strategies.

The bill amendments are available online. The amendments will be added into a third reader version before the bill receives its final vote, later this week.

Previous Conduit Street coverage:

Septics Bill Remains In Senate Limbo, Amendments Pending
“Best Available” Septics Mandate Stumbles in Senate

MACo testimony on SB 266

You’re Invited: Join Us for Our Weekly Legislative Update Conference Call

Every Friday during the legislative session MACo will host a conference call that will update you on the Maryland General Assembly hot topics and bills that affect local governments. Join the conversation at 3:00 pm each week as MACo explores different topics and hosts guest speakers.

This week’s topic (March 10): Environment and Public Information / Ethics

MACo Policy Associate Kevin Kinnally will be joined by MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp for an update on a number of environmental and public information/ethics bills. Call in for an update on police body cameras, energy siting, septics, collective bargaining, and more!

Conference call information: 1.877.850.5007, passcode: 2690043#

We look forward to your participation! Submit your questions in advance by e-mailing Kevin Kinnally.