Maryland is at a key point in its work to meet the 2025 pollution-reduction commitments spelled out in the state's Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. During the 90-day 2022 General Assembly Session, CBF and its advocates urged Maryland to move forward to meet its commitments by taking critical steps to confront climate change and strive for environmental justice. In the end, it was a landmark session for environmental causes and included some huge wins for clean water.
Mitigating Climate Change
CBF is pleased the Climate Solutions Now Act has been enacted following Governor Larry Hogan’s decision to allow it to become law without his signature.
This mitigation requirements in the new law will put Maryland among the leading states working to address the harmful greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels that are causing climate change. In Maryland, greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, power plants, and buildings are contributing to global climate change, which is causing stronger storms, sea level rise, and increased flooding that threaten communities. In the Chesapeake Bay, these symptoms of climate change are leading to additional pollution from increasing polluted stormwater runoff, higher water temperatures, and changes in wildlife distribution.
The Climate Solutions law will require the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60 percent by 2031 and reach net zero emissions by 2045. It calls on the state to electrify state buildings and vehicles and update building codes for large buildings to make them more energy efficient. And it establishes a green bank to finance projects to reduce emissions and creates a new workforce training program to help young people begin climate-related careers.
While the legislation was amended to eliminate a ban on new gas hookups for buildings—an action that would reduce one of the state’s three largest sources of emissions—the bill's greenhouse gas reduction goals present an opportunity for state leaders to pursue actions in the future to meet them.
Environmental Enforcement and Environmental Rights
As we all depend on healthy, clean waterways in our state, CBF is in support of ensuring the safety of Maryland’s waterways for our drinking water, recreational uses, seafood industries, community use, and economic vitality. Currently, hundreds of facilities are polluting our local waterways, severely endangering the public health through contamination of the drinking water supply that serves 5.5 million Marylanders, causing safety concerns with seafood products, property damage, illness in our communities, and loss of revenue. Industrial polluters tend to be clustered in certain areas of the state where residents are already bearing the burden of other environmental harms.
The Maryland Department of the Environment, the agency in charge of enforcement, is critically understaffed and is failing to identify, inspect, and enforce against pollution violations, consequently allowing them to continue for months or years. We are pleased that the General Assembly passed House Bill 649/Senate Bill 492 and is requiring MDE to react promptly in inspecting facilities with expired permits or in continual violation of their pollution limits. This legislation victory was accomplished through the work of a broad coalition of environmental organizations led by the Chesapeake Legal Alliance, Waterkeepers Chesapeake, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. It came on the heels of a multiyear effort on advocacy around "zombie permits" by Shore Rivers, and research developed by the Center for Progressive Reform. Blue Water Baltimore and the Environmental Integrity Project drew attention to issues of noncompliance and provided input into this year’s successful legislative effort.
During this year’s legislative session, CBF also urged legislators to pass the Constitutional Amendment–Environmental Rights (House Bill 596/Senate Bill 783). The amendment would have created a ballot question on whether each person, as a matter of human dignity, has a fundamental and inalienable right to a healthful and sustainable environment enshrined in the Maryland Constitution. While the failure of legislation around environmental human rights leaves work to be done, a strong coalition formed around the issue with a promise to keep working. Bills expanding legal protections for those speaking out against environmental violations and providing public process for engaging in administrative proceedings also did not reach final passage. We look forward to supporting those efforts with our partners in upcoming legislative sessions.
Equitable Assistance for Urban Farmers
Maryland’s agricultural assistance programs, including the University of Maryland's Agriculture Extension were not tailored or responsive to the needs of a growing number of urban farmers. Yet urban farming presents environmental benefits and hold the potential to address health and economic disparities. Urban farms create a preserve green space in developed areas, reducing polluted runoff and improving air quality. Fresh produce from urban farms can help reverse inequitable access to healthy food. Urban farms are small businesses, creating local economies, while community gardens can become gathering places, strengthening social ties and building resiliency.
With the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in the lead, a group of farmers and farm service providers advocated for a bill passed by the General Assembly that will provide more equal footing for urban farmers with regard to state-provided training and technical assistance. This legislation responded directly to the needs shared by urban farmers and urban service providers with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation across a series of coalition-building meetings. Mentorship and training on farming practices, food safety, organics certifications, bookkeeping, and navigating local laws and regulations is widely sought. House Bill 540/Senate Bill 437, will ensure that the University of Maryland Extension established two statewide extension agents dedicated to providing technical assistance and training for urban farmers. Two other bills supported by CBF will complement this law by creating new urban farmer grant opportunities.
Oyster Production for Research and Restoration
CBF supported legislation to increase Maryland’s capacity to carry out oyster restoration by increasing hatchery capacity, reforming oyster shell recycling programs, conducting research on expanding the use of non-shell materials, and surveying existing and potential oyster habitat. House Bill 1228 (Natural Resources–Oysters–Spat, Shells, and Substrate) was enacted into law without the Governor’s signature. The amended legislation sets forth a goal that Maryland’s oyster hatcheries shall be capable of consistently producing 5 billion larvae or spat per year. The legislation also provides $2.5 million to Morgan State University’s Patuxent Environmental and Aquatic Research Laboratory to be used for infrastructure upgrades to support increased oyster production for research and restoration.
Secure and Expand Environmental Funding
Recent passage of the federal infrastructure bill provides an historic influx of federal funding for EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program and the Clean Water State Revolving Fund. CBF, the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, and The Nature Conservancy advocated for funding to be directed to reduce polluted runoff from developed areas of the State, to electrify the transportation sector, improve home energy efficiency, and upgrade failing septic systems. In this year’s budget, Maryland added $46.2 million of federal funding to its clean water revolving loan fund, which could provide a boost to existing resources for reducing polluted runoff from Maryland's cities, towns, and suburbs.
CBF remained vigilant to prevent raids on dedicated funding for environmental programs and in this strong budget year, no environmental funding was reduced. Notably, the Governor and General Assembly maintained full funding for the first year of the 5 million tree program, including $10 million for urban tree plantings. The urban tree program, administered by the Chesapeake Bay Trust is already oversubscribed by almost $5 million, showing the depth of demand for trees that will reduce runoff, mitigate urban heat island effect, and provide a myriad of other co-benefits to communities in Maryland lacking adequate tree cover and green spaces.