We’re halfway through the year and our clean water advocacy efforts show no sign of slowing down. While Virginia and Maryland regular legislative sessions have come to a close, the work continues across the watershed.
Here’s a look at the victories and defeats of the past three months and where we’ll need your help in the months ahead…
A Win for Maryland’s Trees
Forests are the backbone of our communities. They help filter our waters, mitigate flooding and erosion, provide clean air and wildlife habitat, and improve public health. Despite their importance, forested lands in Maryland are being lost at an alarming rate. But thanks to the Maryland General Assembly and clean water advocates in the state, a new law was passed during the legislative session that will update the state’s outdated 1991 Forest Conservation Act. The most significant changes in the legislation include:
- Setting a statewide goal to increase the acreage of forested land and tree canopy.
- Increasing replanting requirements for developers who clear forest by requiring them to replant each acre of forest cleared in most cases. Previously, developers were only required to replace a fraction, if any, of the forested land cleared for new construction.
- Providing local governments flexible options to stop net forest loss. These alternatives are coupled with regular reviews by the state’s Department of Natural Resources to ensure the local plans align with state forest protection goals.
The forest protection legislation comes as Maryland prepares for rising sea levels, stronger storms, and other harm caused by climate change, which forests can help mitigate. CBF is thankful to the General Assembly and clean water advocates around the state for the passage of this critical bill.
In other forest news, this May, a Harford County judge ruled in favor of CBF in a lawsuit against a developer that was proposing to clear about 220 acres of forest, including 49 large and ecologically valuable trees, to build warehouses. CBF has been pursuing this case through the different levels of Maryland’s judicial system since first bringing the lawsuit in 2019. This victory shows what's possible when concerned citizens like you take a stand to ensure that the Forest Conservation Act in Maryland can be used to protect forested land from unceasing encroachment by developers.
An Uncertain Future for Wetlands
On May 25, the Supreme Court issued a disastrous ruling in Sackett v. EPA that eliminates federal safeguards for a broad swath of wetlands and waterways critical to restoring the Chesapeake Bay, its tributaries, and other damaged water bodies across the country.
By significantly narrowing the definition of which wetlands and other waters are protected by the Clean Water Act, the decision could damage the decades-long effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay and its waterways.
The Supreme Court's ruling is complicated, with far-reaching implications that lawyers and regulators are only beginning to analyze. CBF will engage with EPA and the states as they navigate the post-Sackett regulatory landscape. CBF's goal is to ensure that the Clean Water Act covers all non-tidal wetlands and other waters that protect the Chesapeake Bay and make the watershed unique.
Emergency Actions for Striped Bass
Recreational fishing pressure on striped bass increased in 2022 along the Atlantic Coast even as the population is struggling to recover from a dramatic decline, according to the latest update from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). Increased fishing effort significantly decreased the probability of striped bass numbers reaching the target for a healthy population by the 2029 deadline.
In response, ASMFC took two actions in May that seek to reduce fishing effort and get striped bass back on track. While these actions initially raised an abundance of questions, CBF experts were able to provide answers about what these actions mean, how striped bass are doing, and what anglers need to know in a recent blog.
CBF supports the immediate and mid-term actions ASMFC is taking to reduce striped bass mortality and get the rebuilding of the population back on track.
Disappointing News in Virginia
Virginia's Air Pollution Control Board voted in early June to withdraw the state from participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), an auction-based carbon emissions reduction program. This action is discouraging given public support for continued participation in RGGI.
By ending participation in RGGI, Virginia would lose a key tool for reducing air pollution from power plants, which contributes to pollution to the Bay. RGGI also provides the only dedicated revenue in Virginia for protecting communities from flooding.
Repealing RGGI will set back efforts to protect Virginia homes and businesses from flooding and slow down work to restore our rivers and streams. CBF is disappointed with the decision and is considering all possible options for next steps.
We are grateful to our clean water advocates who have continued to speak up on this issue.
Looking Ahead to a Strong Farm Bill
Passed only once every five years or so, the federal Farm Bill is a package of legislation that has far-reaching impacts on farm communities and the way food is grown—and in turn, the quality of our waterways. When soils and fertilizers wash off of farmland, they can smother waterways with sediment and feed large algal blooms that deplete the water of oxygen when they die and decompose.
Nutrient runoff from farms is the largest source of pollution to our waters. Reducing it is also the biggest, most cost-effective opportunity to restore them. That’s why this year’s Farm Bill debate in Congress is so important—and why it’s essential the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) plays a leadership role in restoring the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. We’ll need advocates like you with us as we work to secure critical funding to support conservation programs in this year’s Farm Bill. Add your name to our petition today to show your support for our farmers and urge Congress to increase funding to critical programs that restore our waters in the 2023 Farm Bill. By signing the petition, you’ll be the first to know about breaking Farm Bill news and ways to go further in your advocacy.
Our efforts to vigilantly serve as watchdog for our waters and hold polluters accountable are essential to saving the Bay. They’re also expensive. If you can, please consider a special, tax-deductible donation today to support our work to restore and protect our Bay now and for generations to come.