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

 

 

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.

MACo Opposes Local Land Use Infringement Near Certain Religious Properties

MACo submitted written testimony in opposition to Senate Bill 421, “Counties – Historic Preservation – Development Limitation” on March 14, 2017 in front of the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee. Senator Douglas Peters is the bill sponsor.

SB 421 would infringe on local land use authority and create land use challenges for properties located in a charter or code home rule county that seeks to redevelop or improve but is adjacent to certain “religious property” as defined in the bill.

MACo’s testimony states,

While MACo appreciates the bill sponsor’s concerns over a limited class of religious buildings, the requirements of SB 421 apply to all 17 charter and code home rule counties and may hamper long-term land use plans in those jurisdictions.

Based on a quick review, Montgomery County identified at least 7 sites meeting the bill’s criteria for religious property – suggesting there may be scores of similarly situated properties across the state. Baltimore City and other densely developed urban areas likely cannot comply with the bill’s 600-foot buffer for their qualifying religious properties.

SB 421 seeks to address concerns over a narrow class of developments but the bill’s provisions pose county land use challenges and potentially unanticipated consequences throughout the state. The bill’s intended remedy is both overbroad and unnecessarily infringes on local land use autonomy.

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

MACo Supports Sprinkler Assistance Funding for Rural Residents

MACo Policy Associate, Kevin Kinnally, testified in favor of Senate Bill 1103, “Home Sprinkler and Fire Safety Assistance Fund” on March 14, 2017 in front of the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee. Senator Jim Mathias is the sponsor of this bill.

SB 1103 would provide funding assistance for required sprinkler systems for those in workforce and low-income housing in rural areas without public water.

MACo’s testimony states,

Since the passage of the sprinkler system mandate in 2012 (HB 366/SB 602), rural areas have witnessed a dramatic reduction in building permits for moderate- and low-income housing. Sprinkler systems not on public water can require high pressure pumps and water storage tanks that may add $10,000 to $12,000 to the cost of a new home – a significant cost in a rural area for a home designed for a moderate- to low-income family. SB 1103 would help address this issue by providing a limited funding mechanism to offset costly sprinkler and similar building code mandates.

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

Senate Committee Rejects Wendi Peters for Planning Secretary

A Washington Post article (2017-03-14) reported that Senate Executive Nominations Committee rejected the nomination of Wendi Peters to become the next Maryland Secretary of Planning by a vote of 11-6. Peters was the nominee of Governor Lawrence “Larry” Hogan to replace former Secretary David Craig. Peters has been serving as acting Secretary since Craig’s departure in July of 2016. From the article:

“Ms. Peters is likely qualified for a lot of things, but her background and experience do not make her qualified for Secretary of Planning,” said Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore), the chairman of the committee, offering the sentiments of the majority of the panel.

Peters, a two-term councilmember on the Mt. Airy Town Council in Frederick and a former member of the town’s board of Appeals and Planning Commission, became acting Secretary of Planning in July. She previously served as deputy secretary. …

“Wendi Peters is eminently qualified for this position,” [Hogan spokesperson Amelia] Chasse said, accusing the committee of conducting an “unfair hearing” that was an “insult” to Peters’ decades of service to her community and the state.

Despite the governor’s full confidence in Peters, Chasse said Hogan has withdrawn Peters’ nomination rather than pursue the appointment process through the full Senate.

A potential replacement for Peters has not yet been named.

Useful Links

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

MACo Requests Removal of Local Referenda Mandate on Fracking

MACo Legal & Policy Counsel Les Knapp offered amendments to legislation (SB 862) that would require all local governments to hold a referendum on whether natural gas hydraulic fracturing (fracking) should be allowed within the jurisdiction should the State ever permit fracking to occur in Maryland. A local government may only allow fracking if the voters support it, but may prohibit fracking or enact stricter requirements regardless of the referendum’s outcome.

The bill also extends the existing moratorium on fracking until October 1, 2019, and requires the Maryland Department of the Environment to repeal its current fracking regulations and adopt new regulations based on the best practices and protections adopted by other states and specified fracking studies. Senator Joan Carter Conway sponsored the bill. Knapp requested that the local referenda requirement be removed from the bill. From MACo’s testimony:

MACo’s concern with SB 862 is not about whether to allow or ban hydraulic fracturing in the state. Rather, it is about the idea of ceding the decision-making authority of lawfully elected local officials to a populist decision. Our government is a representative democracy and local officials were elected to make difficult policy decisions – they are held accountable by their voters when they fail to meet their citizens’ expectations.

If fracking is permitted in Maryland, MACo believes each local government should have the authority to decide for itself whether to authorize the activity, impose stricter requirements on the activity, or ban it altogether. Forcing the question to a referendum undermines both the authority and proper role of local officials, whose responsibility it is to understand the potentially long-reaching effects of such legislation on their entire communities.

Additionally, the referendum requirement establishes a troubling precedent that could then be applied to other challenging policy issues. Ultimately, the State could begin requiring referenda on any contentious or challenging issue, undermining local decisions and authority altogether.

The Sierra Club of Maryland also testified in support of MACo’s proposed amendments.

Useful Links

SB 862 of 2017

MACo Testimony on SSB 862

Senator Conway Webpage

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

 

MACo Advocates For Greater Local Role in Energy Siting

MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp testified in favor of House Bill 1350, “Public Service Commission – Application for Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity – Consistency With Comprehensive Plan” on March 9, 2017. The bill was heard before the House Economic Matters Committee and was sponsored by Delegate April Rose. 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. HB 1350 would solidify a needed local government voice in how the state’s energy landscape develops.

Carroll County and 1000 Friends of Maryland also testified in support of the bill. First Solar, the American Wind Energy Association, the Sierra Club, and the PSC testified in opposition.

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

MACo Opposes Local Permitting & Registration Restrictions for Security Systems

MACo Associate Director, Natasha Mehu, recently testified in opposition to legislation (HB 1271 and SB 952) that would severely restrict a local government’s ability to regulate security system and monitoring companies. These restrictions weaken compliance with local codes, erode public safety protections, and overburden local resources

MACo’s testimony states,

PERMITTING
HB 1271 requires local governments to follow a universal permitting and notification system for low-voltage security systems. It also requires that these permits be available for bulk purchase without specifying the project. Currently, companies must comply with any local low-voltage electrical permitting requirements. These permits help to ensure that for each project the work to be performed is up to local code and performed by individuals properly licensed to do so within the jurisdiction.

REGISTRATIONS
HB 1271 also prohibits a local government from requiring a security system contractor or a monitoring agency to register customers and sets limits on the ability to penalize companies that fail to do so. Accurate registration is an important safety and resource management tool for local governments. It is the only way for a county to know who the customers are, which companies are servicing them, and whether all parties are complying with the local laws. As the company contracts directly with the customer, they are in the best position to ensure that the customer is properly registered. Counties do not have the ability to track down who the customer is to enforce registration. Failure of a customer to be registered often only comes to light once an alarm has been set off and local police are notified.

FALSE ALARMS
Because of the crucial role contractors and monitoring agencies play in the registration and enforcement process, local governments would almost certainly suffer an increase in false alarm calls under this bill. False alarms are a significant drain on local law enforcement resources. Each false alarm call takes officers away from addressing true public safety needs. When customers are properly registered with the county, police are quickly able to get into contact with them so that any problems can be fixed before there are more false alarms and resources drained responding to them.

Meredith Wivell, Mid Atlantic Chapter President from the False Alarm Reduction Association and Alberto Hook, Director of the False Alarm Reduction Section in Montgomery County, joined Ms. Mehu on a panel in opposition to this bill. HB 1271 was heard by the House Economic Matters Committee on March 6 and SB 952 was heard by the Senate Finance Committee on March 9, 2017.

Joining Ms. Mehu to testify on SB 952:

  • Meredith Wivell, Mid Atlantic Chapter President, False Alarm Reduction Association
  • Steve Thomas, Division Chief Commercial Building Construction, Montgomery County
  • Alberto Hook, Director, False Alarm Reduction Section, Montgomery County Police Department
  • Steven Heggemann, Manager, Alarm Reduction Section, Baltimore County
  • Thomas Waugh, Chief of Special Investigations Unit, Baltimore City Housing
  • Brad Shipp, False Alarm Reduction Association

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