April 12, 2011
MD Bay Clean-up Programs Spared Budget Axe, but Key Issues not Addressed
Intense lobbying averts cuts in trust fund, but action on natural gas drilling, septic pollution wind power, shopping bags, other issues fail or are postponed
(ANNAPOLIS, MD)—The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) today declared the 2011 session of the Maryland General Assembly a mixed bag of successes and disappointments. There was success in terms of the organization's chief priority, protecting Bay restoration funding, but some key environmental issues were not addressed.
"Recognizing that legislators needed to deal with a large fiscal deficit, CBF focused on protecting the environmental budget and defeating attempts to roll back programs just when we're making real progress, and the Bay is showing signs of recovery," said Kim Coble, Maryland Executive Director of CBF. "Governor O'Malley and the General Assembly held steady in tough times and continued to invest in clean water. That investment is fundamental to our health and economy and will continue to pay great dividends."
After intense lobbying from CBF and other groups, the legislature appropriated $23.5 million to the Chesapeake and Atlantic Bay Trust Fund, a $1 million increase over the previous year. Lawmakers rejected a proposal by the Department of Legislative Services (DLS) to cut funding to the Trust Fund permanently. The program helps farmers and local governments, among others, implement conservation measures. Governor O'Malley had requested the increase in his original budget proposal.
The legislature also rejected a proposal by DLS to cut funding to Program Open Space permanently. However, lawmakers cut funding significantly for one year to the program. Program Open Space finances land preservation and parks.
The Maryland General Assembly also approved important legislation (HB 573/SB487) that will help the state meet its new commitment to a Chesapeake Bay "pollution diet." The legislation eliminates phosphorous in standard lawn fertilizer and reduces nitrogen. Lawn fertilizer contributes a significant pollution to the Bay and its tributaries.
But important legislation also failed this session. A bill (HB 852/SB 634) that would have assured gas drilling in western Maryland is done right, thereby boosting the economy while protecting drinking water and other natural and local resources, did not succeed. The level of safeguards for drilling is now less certain.
Legislators also rejected a bill (HB 1034/SB 602) that would have encouraged consumers to reuse shopping bags by charging them five cents per bag for using either plastic or paper bags at supermarkets and other stores. A similar program in Washington, D.C. has reduced the use of plastic bags by 50 to 80 percent, and surveys show District residents readily adapted to reusable bags.
Action on other important issues was postponed for further discussion, including a bill (HB 1107/SB 846) proposed by Governor O'Malley that would have helped the state manage sprawl and reduce septic pollution. The issue is likely to be taken up by a task force in the summer, with possible legislation to follow. Septic systems have been largely unaddressed by the state even though an average household using a septic produces 10 times more nitrogen pollution than a household hooked into many major sewerage plants in Maryland.
Another bill (HB 1054/SB 861) would have encouraged off-shore wind energy in Maryland, and created thousands of jobs in the process. That issue also is likely to be addressed during the summer.
Other positive environmental bills actively supported by CBF and approved by the legislature will:
- better address poaching by commercial fishermen of oysters, fish, and crabs through increased penalties and other measures. In one narrow area of the Bay this winter fishermen poached 10 tons of rockfish. By some estimates nearly half the oysters growing on sanctuary reefs that are off-limits to harvest were illegally poached in past years.
- require the Maryland Department of Environment to evaluate and rank best-available nitrogen removal technologies for septic systems which qualify for Bay Restoration funding based upon not only cost but also pollution reducing efficiencies.