Climate Change, Growth & Conowingo Dam Challenge 2025 Bay Restoration Goals

Bay Journal article (2018-01-24) explored the three biggest challenges facing Maryland in meeting the 2025 nutrient and sediment reduction goals under the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load: (1) growth; (2) climate change; and (3) the Conowingo Dam. A draft number representing the combined nitrogen generated by these three factors could offset much of the existing nitrogen gains made since 2010. While these factors pose hurdles for all Bay watershed states, Pennsylvania faces the largest shortfall. The article noted that the Bay Program will likely have states address these factors as part of their Phase III Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) but not necessarily require them to fully implement them by 2025.

Conowingo Dam

The Conowingo Dam has lost its ability to trap nutrients that flow down the Susquehanna River. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan is reviewing proposals to dredge some of the sediment in the Dam’s reservoir, restoring some of its nutrient capturing potential. However, that plan is still in its preliminary stages.

State officials at the December [Bay Commission] meeting agreed to develop a plan for additional nutrient reductions to offset the impact of Conowingo, but they did not commit to fully implementing it by 2025.

Climate Change

The article noted that climate change posed a significant challenge to Bay restoration efforts as the original pollution reduction targets were based on steady climate conditions from the 1990s to 2025. However, state officials were unprepared for climate change numbers added an estimated 4% more nitrogen to the target loads. The changing precipitation rates could also reduce the effectiveness of some stormwater best management practices.

After extensive debate, officials agreed that their watershed implementation plans would generally describe how the states will address nutrient loads from climate change, but delayed quantifying the needed amount of reductions until 2021.

Delaying the inclusion of numeric goals was intended to give scientists more time to refine their estimates and to identify which nutrient control practices are most likely to withstand changing climate conditions.

Growth

The article stated that growth is projected to add an additional 4 million pounds of nitrogen and 154,000 pounds of phosphorus to the Bay by 2025.

[F]orecasts of growth will be incorporated into the nutrient reduction goals given to each state, which will now account for growth upfront when they write new watershed implementation plans.

The article noted that the growth forecasts will be updated every two years.

 

Local Governments Warming to Green Bonds

Sustainable City Network article (2017-02-17) discussed the increasing use of “green bonds” by states and local governments to build more environmentally friendly and more efficient infrastructure. The article noted that as many states impose green infrastructure mandates or implement Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) for renewable energy, there has been increased pressure on local governments to find alternative forms of financing to fund these types of projects. From the article:

This is where green bonds enter the picture. These debt instruments, constructed precisely to bring capital to sustainable projects – whether that is renewable power, battery storage or climate change adaptation projects – can provide an alternative means for cities to invest in the infrastructure they need to remain economically competitive in a manner that is both environmentally and ecologically sound. …

Even for those municipalities without an immediate, acute focus on climate change, green bonds are seen as a viable financing option. Because green bond investors are spread around the world but the primary beneficiaries of green financings are more concentrated by region (or even by country), some municipalities could appeal to a broader base of investors by issuing green bonds. What’s more, issuers and investors alike could stand to benefit from certain municipal bond tax-exemptions.

The article stated that in the first half of 2017, United States municipalities accounted for a majority of the 101 green bonds issued globally by local governments and states, with a value of roughly $18 billion.

The article also noted that green bonding in the United States lags behind China and Europe due to the lack of a cohesive policy for carbon mitigation and adaptation and clear regulations for green bond practices. However, the article believed green bonding will continue to play an increasingly important role over the next few years at the local government level:

So, with a stricter federal policy on climate change unlikely to materialize any time soon, it will be down to states, cities and corporations to drive future green bond growth – with much of the investment for green projects coming from investor-owned and public utilities to meet new standards.

Septic System Legislation Introduced by Governor, Legislators

Both Governor Larry Hogan and Delegate Stephen Lafferty have introduced legislation during the 2018 Session addressing septic systems and the use of best available nitrogen removal technology (BAT). The use of BAT septic systems was a major issue during the 2017 Session. Here is a quick summary of both bills:

Septic Stewardship Act of 2018

HB 361/SB 314 is an Administration bill and includes several components relating to BAT septic systems and the Bay Restoration Fund (BRF). Both versions have numerous Republican legislators as co-sponsors. The bill has three primary parts:

  1. The bill exempts a septic system owner from paying the BRF fee if: (1) the owner has a BAT system; and (2) the owner did not receive a State or federal grant or income tax subtraction modification for installing the BAT system. This new language is analogous to existing law that provides an exemption for users of wastewater facilities operating at enhanced nutrient removal level or better.
  2. The bill alters how the money going into the BRF septic system/cover crop account is divided. Currently, 60% of the funds going into the account goes towards septic systems (including BAT upgrades and connections to wastewater treatment plants) and 40% goes to the Maryland Agriculture Water Quality Cost Share Program within the Department of Agriculture for cover crop activities. The bill would change that distribution to 50% for septics and 50% for cover crops.
  3. The bill would allow BRF septic system money to be used by eligible homeowners for the reasonable cost of pumping out a septic system once every 5 years. In order to be eligible, the homeowner must reside in a local jurisdiction that has developed a “septic stewardship plan.” The plan must include provisions to ensure that septic systems are properly operated and maintained, including being subject to routine pump-outs and inspections.

Sale or Transfer of Home Within the Critical Area

HB 458 is a bill sponsored by Delegate Stephen Lafferty and would require that a home that is on a septic system located within the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coast Bays Critical Area must have a BAT system or be upgraded to a BAT septic system before the home is sold or transferred.

Other Possible Legislation

It is still possible that other legislation affecting septic systems could be introduced. One potential idea that has been discussed would require the use of BAT septic systems within 1,000 feet of any impaired waterway or stream.

 

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