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

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

“A Better Maryland” Outreach Sessions Scheduled for Eight More Counties

MDP logo

A Maryland Department of Planning article (2018-01-10) provided an update on the Department’s outreach efforts regarding the proposed state development plan, “A Better Maryland.” The article noted that the Department has conducted outreach sessions in eight counties and plans to hold sessions in eight more counties between January 23 and March 27. All 24 counties will be host to at least one outreach event in order to solicit public feedback on the nature and role of the plan. From the article:

The listening sessions are designed to be informal, fun, and engaging. John Fetchero, an Allegany County resident who participated in the Cumberland public session on December 18, described it as “a workshop, by far the most productive in terms of brainstorming, that I have been a part of, bar none.” The words “workshop” and “brainstorming” paint a clear picture of these sessions. Planning is visiting communities throughout the state free of preconceived notions about what A Better Maryland should be or how it can best support local planning efforts. We are working with our stakeholders to develop creative ideas together as a team.

Planning has already conducted listening sessions in eight counties and the rest of the schedule is filling up!…The sessions are not restricted to county residents. Individuals living in towns, cities, and neighboring counties are also encouraged to attend.  Again, please look at the website for more information about each of our upcoming listening sessions including:

Howard County: Tuesday, January 23
Kent County: Tuesday, January 30
Queen Anne’s County: Tuesday, February 13
Cecil County: Tuesday, February 27
Harford County: Wednesday, February 28
Carroll County: Thursday, March 1
Dorchester County: Tuesday, March 6
Calvert County: Tuesday, March 27

Marylanders can also share their thoughts about A Better Maryland online at ABetter.Maryland.gov. We have a brief survey with questions including:

  • In one word, what is your community’s greatest strength?
  • Rank the following in terms of importance to the quality of life in your community (housing, transportation, open space, …)
  • Rank the issues that should be addressed by a state development plan (environment, land use and growth, education, …)

As a means of maintaining a two-way dialogue, the website contains summary notes for each listening session, organized by county, on the input page. Check them out to see what others are saying. Planning posts these notes as they are completed, and they will form the foundation with which our department, in collaboration with local stakeholders, other state government agencies, and statewide organizations, crafts A Better Maryland.

Planning continues to schedule and plan more listening sessions throughout the state, and will complete all 24 meetings by the end of March. Please visit the website for more information about future meetings and to take the survey. Now is the time to make your voice heard. If you have any questions about A Better Maryland, or to find out when Planning is visiting your community, please contact Chuck Boyd, Director of Planning Coordination, (chuck.boyd@maryland.gov) 410-767-1401.

Useful Links

A Better Maryland Webpage

A Better Maryland Event Calendar

A Better Maryland Survey Page

A Better Maryland Interactive Rackcard

State Legislators Consider Howard County School APFO Legislation

Baltimore Sun article (2018-01-05) reported that Howard County’s state legislators will consider pushing legislation to modify the County’s Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO). APFOs are use to slow or restrict growth until adequate infrastructure or public services are in place to serve the new population of residents. The proposed legislation would allow the County Council to increase developer fees for projects being built in areas that lack school capacity. The article stated that the legislation would allow for fees to be: (1) doubled in areas where schools at at 110 to 115 percent of capacity; and (2) increased by 200 percent in areas where schools are at 115 to 120 of capacity. Developers who pay the fees may bypass the current four year waiting period for construction in those areas. From the article:

“It’s going to take up a lot of our time during the legislative session for the Howard County caucus to really make a decision on this,” [Delegate Robert] Flanagan, [a Republican,] said. “What I want to have happen is to get on a path for adequate school construction funding that is fair.”

[House Delegation Chairman Eric] Ebersole and Senate Delegation Chairman Guy Guzzone, both Democrats, said they need to wait until the County Council passes its APFO legislation before knowing what the best strategy is for the state’s bill. The council’s initial passage of its APFO bills in November was declared void as the bills were already expired by the time of the vote.

Del. Frank Turner [, a Democrat,] said he anticipates more changes could be made to the county’s APFO bill before it is passed, which would effect the state’s handling of the issue.

The article also stated that the Howard delegation will also be considering legislation that would: (1) create a student loan repayment assistance program for teachers; (2) exempt teachers buying their first home in the County from the County’s transfer tax; and (3) increase the amount of the County’s transfer tax that can be put towards the School Site Acquistion and Construction Fund from 25 percent to 50 percent.

Montgomery County Planning Department Eyeing Congested Veirs Mill Corridor

Washington Business Journal article (2018-01-08) reported that the Montgomery County Planning Department will present the Department’s preliminary recommendations for the Veirs Mill corridor master plan. The Veirs Mill corridor, which runs between Rockville and Wheaton, suffers from both congestion and pedestrian safety problems. The recommendations seek to make the area more wakable and transit-friendly and have a higher mixed use density. From the article:

The recommendations include the following ideas to not only improve safety but also enhance the community with new mixed-use development, residential uses and mobility alternatives:

  • Introducing a complete street approach along Veirs Mill Road that includes continuous walkways protected by a green buffer and a two-way separated bike lane along the south side.
  • Implementing short and long-term improvements on commercial properties to create neighborhood-serving centers. [Montgomery County planner Jessica] McVary said there are opportunities for additional mixed-use development along Veirs Mill as well as potential for new areas where public open spaces could be established along with new internal street connections.
  • Adding residential, both single-family and multifamily. McVary said most of the Veirs Mill corridor is aligned with single-family development but the hope is to also encourage higher-density development such as town homes and mid-rise apartment buildings that also provide a centralized area for public use. The recommendations specifically call for multifamily closer to the Twinbrook Metro and new development adjacent to Rock Creek Park.
  • Creating partnerships to encourage community participation in the corridor and to create local character with public art, tree plantings and bicycle facilities.

Fine Tune Your Growth Regs With The New And Improved “COW”

The Code and Ordinance Worksheet, provided by the Center for Watershed Protection, has been updated after 20 years of use.

Center for Watershed Protection Press Release:

Originally created in 1998, the COW [Code and Ordinance Worksheet] is a tool for municipal staff or non-governmental organizations whose communities are experiencing or anticipating new development or redevelopment in urban, suburban or rural areas and need help evaluating their local development regulations.

Center Director of Research Karen Cappiella:

The COW allows an in-depth review of the standards, ordinances and codes that shape how development occurs. We are excited to launch this updated COW to help local communities plan for more environmentally friendly, economically viable and locally appropriate development.

The update includes national expert input from relevant disciplines. The document accompanies the Center’s Better Site Design Handbook, which outlines 22 model development principles for implementing better site design.

In the last 20 years, COW has been used in 75 communities 8 states and Washington DC.

Learn more here.

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

Here are the Key Chesapeake Bay Restoration Issues Facing the 2018 MD, VA, & PA Legislatures

Bay Journal article (2018-01-03) highlighted the Chesapeake Bay issues that will be debated by the legislatures of Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. The article noted that many of the issues are not new and have been debated  previously.

MARYLAND

The article noted that Maryland will consider legislation to: (1) strengthen Maryland’s Forest Conservation Act; (2) increase Maryland’s renewable energy targets; and (3) regulate air pollution from poultry houses. From the article:

Forest Conservation: Lawmakers in Annapolis are being pressed by environmental groups to take another look at tightening the state’s 27-year-old forest conservation law. …

As originally passed in 1991, the Forest Conservation Act regulates the removal of large numbers of trees for development and requires either that new ones be planted elsewhere or that the developer pay into a local government fund for later plantings. …

[Activists] contend that the 1991 law has been particularly ineffective at saving the largest and most ecologically valuable woodlands. …

“When there’s intact forest ecology, that’s basically the most important kind of forest, and that’s the forest the act is doing the least to benefit,” said Elaine Lutz, a staff attorney with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. …

Local government officials remain wary of tightening the law, but say they’d like to have more flexibility in where trees must be replanted and how they can spend funds paid by developers in lieu of replanting removed trees. But real estate interests argue the law is working and does not need a major overhaul.

“The Forest Conservation Act was never meant to be a no-net-loss policy,” said Lori Graf, chief executive officer of the Maryland Building Industry Association. The law is just one of several laws and programs aimed at halting the loss of the state’s forestland, she said, and recent data indicate the goal of maintaining the state’s overall forest acreage is being met.

Renewable Energy Targets: The article indicated that environmental advocates plan on introducing legislation that would require Maryland to generate 50 percent of its energy through renewable sources by 2030 and possibly require 100 percent by 2035. The legislation would also stop waste to energy plants from being counted as a renewable energy source.

Poultry House Air Emissions: The article noted that the Maryland General Assembly will be debating the Community Healthy Air Act, which would require the Maryland Department of the Environment to collect and report data on chicken house air emissions, including ammonia which is found in chicken waste.

VIRGINIA

According to the article, Virginia will tackle three key issues: (1) Bay restoration funding; (2) funding to upgrade the City of Alexandria’s failing waste water system; and (3) the disposal of coal ash.

Bay Restoration Funding: While the article notes that all three states will be challenged to provide sufficient funding to meet their Bay restoration goals, Virginia Bay advocates will be introducing a pair of bills to provide $69.5 million in additional funding. The first bill would add $19.5 million to the $42.5 million outgoing Governor Terry McAuliffe including in his proposed budget for agricultural best management practices (bringing the total to $62 million). The second bill would add $50 million to Virginia’s Stormwater Local Assistance Fund in future budget years. The Fund, which provides money to local governments for stormwater remediation projects, received no funding under McAuliffe’s budget.

Alexandria Sewer Overflows: McAuliffe’s proposed budget includes $20 million for Alexandria to address its chronic sewage overflows.

Coal Ash Disposal: The article indicated the Virginia legislature will consider a bill that would encourage Dominion Energy to recycle coal ash, such as using it in concrete, rather than storing it in covered pits near Bay tributaries.

PENNSYLVANIA

The Pennsylvania legislature will wrestle with: (1) funding Bay cleanup costs; (2) regulation and training for lawn fertilizer applicators; and (3) creation of a water fee.

Bay Restoration Funding for Animal Manure Processing: The article stated that Pennsylvania will be taking up the Clean Water Procurement bill, which would establish a $50 million yearly fund with payments from the state’s municipalities. The payments would be in lieu of municipalities having to do their own stormwater projects. The Fund would providing financing to private industry to address animal manure waste from the agricultural sector.  Municipal associations are opposed to the bill.

Regulation of Lawn Fertilizer Applicators: Pennsylvania will also be considering legislation that limits amount of fertilizer that can be applied to lawns and requires lawn care and landscaping company personnel to be trained and certified before they can apply lawn fertilizer. Similar legislation has already passed in both Maryland and Virginia.

Water Fee: Finally, the article indicated that Pennsylvania legislature will review a study report on proposed legislation to add a 0.01 cent fee per gallon of water withdrawn for commercial or industrial purposes. The fee would only apply to withdrawals of more than 10,000 gallons and is expected to raise $250 million a year.

Planning Commissioner Court Challenge Against Calvert County Commissioners Dismissed

Calvert Recorder article (2018-01-03) reported the dismissal of a circuit court case challenging the ability of county commissioners to remove members of planning commissions or other county boards. The case was filed against the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners by two former Planning Commission members (former chair Maurice Lusby and vice-chair Michael Phipps) after the County Commissioners removed them from their positions. Retired Maryland Court of Special Appeals Judge James P. Salmon dismissed the case on December 22, 2017.

The County Commissioners moved to suspend Lusby and Phipps in November of 2016 over alleged procurement and fiscal procedure violations, an open meetings violation, and failure to address a proposed zoning amendment. From the article:

“The Court, in essence, concluded that the County Commissioners have the right to impose reasonable limitations on the Planning Commission’s expenditures for legal fees and the Order & Opinion states that Messrs’ Lusby’s and Phipps’ refusal to comply with that directive constituted misconduct under Maryland law,” explained County Attorney John Norris to The Calvert Recorder in an emailed statement. …

Commissioners’ President Evan Slaughenhoupt (R) said the commissioners made a very difficult decision to suspend the commission heads and believes the late December court ruling proves their decision correct. Slaugenhoupt told the Recorder the commissioners were well within their legal rights to remove the chairs. …

Norris said the court also dismissed a variety of other causes of action simply because they are not viable under Maryland law or under the facts and circumstances of this case.

The article also noted that Lusby and Phipps are deciding whether to appeal the dismissal order to the Court of Special Appeals or request a reconsideration of the order.

 

Can “Missing Middle” Housing Maintain Millennials in Urban Areas?

Washington Post article (2017-12-09) reported that urban planners, concerned over the potential migration of millennials who want more space and privacy for their children, are turning back to the “missing middle” of housing: “duplexes, triplexes, bungalows, rowhouses with multiple units, and small buildings with four to six apartments or condos.” The article noted that these types of housing are also designed to provide affordable urban housing options for the middle class. From the article:

“There’s been this huge wave of people in cities all over the country. Then they grow up. Then what?,” said Yolanda Cole, who owns a D.C. architectural firm and chairs ULI Washington, part of the Urban Land Institute, a research organization dedicated to responsible land use.

In the District, about 35 percent o f the housing stock — mostly rowhouses and apartment buildings with two to four units — qualifies as missing middle, planners say. But many of the rowhouses have been carved up into smaller units, shrinking the supply of larger homes and sending prices soaring just as older millennials began seeking them out. Several years ago, in part to preserve larger homes for millennials trying to remain in D.C., the city began limiting when rowhouses could be divided into more than three units.

 “We’re starting to research where and how we can encourage more of the missing middle,” said Art Rodgers, senior housing planner for the D.C. Office of Planning. “I think urban areas in general have to make tough choices between maximizing land capacity and maintaining this housing supply.” …

Some cities have rezoned their single-family neighborhoods to allow duplexes, triplexes and other multiunit structures that look like single-family homes from the outside, particularly in areas near transit lines. To allow more homes per lot, others are considering relaxing requirements on yard sizes and setbacks, the distance required between properties. Some are beginning to allow bungalows clustered around courtyards by changing long-standing requirements that front entrances be on a street. …

Gwen Wright, planning director for Montgomery County, said more homes in the missing middle would serve as a transition needed between the high-rises of growing downtowns like Bethesda and surrounding neighborhoods of single-family houses. Home buyers of all ages need more options in a county where a starter home can command up to $900,000, she said.

“I think we can provide what millennials are looking for — being close to transit-oriented areas but having the same benefits of a single-family house, even if not in a traditional sense with the yard and picket fence,” Wright said. “My sense is millennials are looking for more than that half-acre. They’re looking for community and walkability. They’ve gotten used to those” in cities.

The article also discussed the potential impact of increasing “missing middle” housing on developer profits and whether the initial trend will continue:

Fred Selden, planning director for Fairfax County in the Northern Virginia suburbs, said he hasn’t seen an exodus of millennials from the county’s more urban areas. But he senses the uncertainty in his profession. …

Experts say it’s too early to know how many urban millennials will try to stay versus follow the well-worn path to the suburbs once they have school-age children. The ULI Washington study found nearly two-thirds of those 30 and older said they planned to continue living inside the ­Beltway in the next three years. But nearly half of that age group also didn’t have children and didn’t expect to in that time. The survey also found 58 percent of millennial renters believed they would need to move outside the Beltway to buy a home.