April 10, 2012
Major Wins for Chesapeake Bay
in 2012 Legislative Session
General Assembly approves funds to finish sewage plant upgrades and to reduce polluted runoff
(ANNAPOLIS, MD)—The Chesapeake Bay and local creeks and rivers should improve significantly in the coming years as a result of bold action by Governor O'Malley and the Maryland General Assembly during this year's legislative session, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) told its 86,000 members in the state today.
The General Assembly showed remarkable courage in approving two bills that will fund major improvements of the state's largest sewage plants, and of its long-neglected stormwater facilities. The bills will employ thousands of Marylanders, and will help the state finish the job of making Maryland water safe for swimming and fishing by 2025.
"This is a down payment on a healthy future. The General Assembly has made a smart investment that will reap enormous dividends in jobs, property values, and our children's health," said Alison Prost, Maryland Executive Director of CBF. "Governor O'Malley, House Speaker Busch, Senate President Miller and members of the Assembly deserve enormous praise for taking the long view, and for following through on the state's commitment to clean water."
In the final days of the session, the legislature approved one bill (HB 446) to double the so-called flush tax to finish upgrading the state's 67 largest sewage plants. That measure will decrease nitrogen pollution by about 3.7 million pounds a year. In the final minutes of the session lawmakers also approved a second bill (HB 987) to require the state's nine most populated counties and Baltimore to collect a fee to reduce polluted runoff. The local governments have complete freedom to set the fee based on their unique stormwater needs. Polluted runoff is the fastest rising source of water pollution. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had said funds from both bills were absolutely necessary for the state to meet its Bay clean-up promises.
Recent studies have shown a $1 investment in water and sewer infrastructure increases private output (Gross Domestic Product) in the long term by $6.35. Prince George's County estimates it will create 2,600 private sector jobs from the stormwater bill alone in the next four years.
In addition to making important investments in pollution reduction technology, Maryland is now poised to grow more sustainably. The legislature approved a bill that aims to reduce sprawl growth in rural areas. The bill has the potential to stop many major subdivisions from being built in areas where we want to preserve farms and forests.
Also, Governor O'Malley has promised in the coming months to require developers to offset any new pollution they create, by reducing it elsewhere; and to require those builders who install septic systems in rural areas to use the best available technology.
Other bills important to the Bay enjoyed mixed success during the 2012 Session included:
- The legislature sustained level funding for the Chesapeake and Coastal Bay Trust Fund, which helps farmers and local governments reduce pollution.
- Lawmakers depleted some funds from Program Open Space which preserves land from development, and used the money instead to help fund a one-time capital expenditure of $27 million in local stormwater management projects.
- The General Assembly failed to act on a bill to reduce litter to creeks and rivers. The bill, modeled after a successful measure in Washington, D.C. would have charged customers 5 cents for the use of a plastic or paper bag, and directed the revenue to water clean-up efforts.
- The legislature did not pass a bill encouraging the development of wind energy off the coast of Maryland. One third of the Bay's pollution comes from the air, much of it from car exhaust and from coal-fired plants. Producing energy from alternative sources rather than coal would help reduce water pollution.
- The legislature also did not act on several bills which asked the gas drilling industry to help pay for a state study of hydraulic fracturing. The controversial drilling technique is banned in Maryland until the state determines how it can be done safely.