Following one of the most disappointing sessions for the environment in 2011, this year environmental advocates and legislators in Annapolis pulled out all the stops and were successful passing bills that will significantly improve and protect Maryland’s water quality and resources. We made a lot of progress in 2012, but there is much to be done. Make sure you stay involved.
The Community Cleanup and Greening Act of 2012 or “Bag Bill” House bill 1247 sponsored by Del. Washington and Senate Bill 511 by Sen. Frosh would have reduced litter in our communities and provided funding back into our communities to support cleanups and water quality initiatives. A five-cent fee on disposable checkout bags has been proven to dramatically reduce plastic bag use and promote a change in behavior to reusable bags. Maryland’s neighborhoods and water bodies are choking with trash and disposable plastic shopping bags. A Maryland survey showed that plastic bags are nearly 50% of the trash in the tributary streams of the Anacostia River, while the businesses of Baltimore’s Waterfront Partnership spend $300,000 yearly on litter pickup on their properties.
Both the Anacostia River and Baltimore Harbor are so polluted with litter that they have been declared impaired by trash under the federal Clean Water Act. A five-cent bag fee program in place in Washington, DC since 2010 has not only proven to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay by encouraging a change in behavior away from disposable bags and toward reusable bags, but has raised and reinvested $2.5 million back into the community for restoration activities. In anticipation of re-introduction The Community Cleanup and Greening Act next session The Trash Free Maryland Coalition and Clean Water Action will work to pass “bag bill” ordinances in local jurisdictions such as Baltimore and Prince Georges County.
We’re not going to restore our urban and suburban waterways without significant investment in the way we manage stormwater runoff. The creation and implementation of Stormwater management utility fees are not new. In 2009, over 240 stormwater utilities were in place throughout the United States. Thankfully, this session the state legislature passed the Watershed Protection and Restoration Act. The Act will require local jurisdictions subject to a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Phase I municipal storm sewer system permit (MS 4 permit) to establish a stormwater management utility fee. The MS4 permits cover the 10 largest urban and suburban jurisdictions. However, the State has exempted themselves from the payment of this fee to the counties and municipalities covered by the new law.
Reducing stormwater damage to Maryland’s waterways can only happen if we all take responsibility to provide local governments with the funding they deserve. In the 2012 legislative session as in 2011 Clean Water Action supported House Bill 529 which would have repealed the exemption from utility fees related to stormwater for property owned by the State of Maryland. Unfortunately the bill failed. Only by fulfilling their financial obligations of the stormwater management fee the State will help to educate residents to the benefits to a local stormwater utility charge that exhibits the principle that polluters should pay and with stormwater we are all responsible. Clean Water Action will be back again next session to see that the State fulfills its financial responsibility to paying for its polluted runoff.
One of the most important issues Clean Water Action has worked on since the 2010 session has been the future of natural gas drilling in western Maryland. Marcellus Shale running below western Maryland’s Garret and Allegany holds millions of cubic tons of natural gas, a great potential resource for generating clean energy. However, most research and current experiences in other states show that extracting this gas through the process of “hydro-fracturing” is dangerous, having negative impacts upon the environment, especially water resources, as well as the quality of life of affected communities.
A comprehensive study to make sure the process of extraction, if it is to proceed in Maryland, uses the best practices and create the highest safety standards is certainly required. In June 2011, Governor Martin O’Malley, through an executive order established the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative. Specifically, the executive order requires MDE and DNR, in consultation with an advisory commission to conduct a three part study of findings and recommendations.
The Marcellus Shale Study Fee House Bill 1123 sponsored by Del. Mizeur and Senate Bill 798 sponsored by Sen. Frosh would have required natural gas drilling companies with leases be assessed $15 an acre to fund a detailed study to ensure that natural gas drilling is safe and policies protecting the environment and communities are created before gas production could begin. The bill would have assured gas drilling in western Maryland is done right. House Bill 1123 passed the House of Delegates 94-41, but unfortunately failed to be voted on in the Senate Education, Health and Environment committee and therefore failed.
Offshore wind is one of America’s greatest untapped energy resources. Our northern neighbors in Delaware and New Jersey have already passed legislation to lay the ground work for major offshore wind parks. If Maryland is to begin to develop our most abundant homegrown energy source, off shore wind, and obtain all the benefits from new jobs to stable-priced energy it must support legislation to develop offshore wind power. In fact, a 2010 study sponsored by the Abell Foundation found that offshore wind power in Maryland could provide the equivalent of two-thirds our state’s current electric load. In addition developing Maryland’s offshore wind resources could lead to the creation of more than15,000 jobs over the next 20 years and would enable us to meet our clean energy requirements.
That’s why this session Clean Water Action supported the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2012, House Bill 441 sponsored by speaker Busch and Senate Bill 237 sponsored by Sen. Miller included strong provisions to protect ratepayers and ensure Maryland's support for developing this new industry would be affordable. The bill’s provisions were developed after extensive feedback from legislators in the Maryland General Assembly during the 2011 session and during study sessions last fall. Unfortunately even after an intense and comprehensive campaign and being voted through the House of Delegates the bill failed to be voted on in the Senate Finance Committee and so died.
In order to ensure the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all Marylanders regardless of race, color, or income in the development and implementation of our environmental policies, state agencies must view permitting decisions through a public health lens. Too often, minority or low-income communities bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, municipal, or commercial operations. As a consequence, too many of Maryland’s polluting facilities are sited in and around areas where residents have little means or lack the power to voice their opposition. There has never been a comprehensive study to investigate whether these same circumstances may cause an increased risk of cancer or cancer clusters.
The first step to solving this unjust environmental situation is to map out exactly where high risk or hotspot communities, especially those with cancer clusters are located throughout the State. It is time for state government to accept responsibility for the health implications of polluting facilities and other projects of the past and undertake a comprehensive study of where cancer clusters might exist and their relation to the environment of local communities. Once these communities are located state agencies like MDE will be able to create a holistic picture of the potential environmental and public health effects in its permitting process.
The time for a study that identifies so-called hotspots and environmentally stressed communities and emphasizes the community health benefits of environmental justice is now, that’s why Clean water Action supported House Bill 1401 sponsored by Del. Walker and Senate Bill 784 sponsored by Sen. Muse. The bill would have required the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and Department of Environment to create a workgroup to examine and investigate potential cancer clusters in the State and there possible environmental causes. Unfortunately the bill failed. However, Clean Water Action will be back next session to introduce comprehensive environmental justice legislation which will require similar comprehensive studies as supported above.
The drilling technique to release natural gas in shall is called “hydraulic fracturing,” where horizontal wells are drilled 5,000+ feet below ground and millions of gallons of water – mixed with a variety of toxic chemicals and sand are injected to fracture the rock to release the gas to. Once the hydraulic fracturing process is completed, approximately one-third of the water flows out of the well. This hydraulic fracturing flowback water (HFFW) must be treated to remove chemicals and minerals. Since each well will require numerous trucks to haul away HFFW, a treatment facility would be expected to receive a number of truck loads from a single site. In fact, it is the practice for well service companies to use tanker trucks that carry 5,460 gallons of fluid. One fracking job results in about 150-200 tanker trucks per well on the road hauling away resulting fracking fluid waste water. Accidents and spills from heavy trucks transporting fracking wastewater throughout the US are well documented. Given the uncertainties of this process, and the unknown and secretive composition of chemicals, mostly toxic, making-up so-called “fracking fluid” preventing the importation and transportation and treatment of fracking wastewater seems warranted and necessary
There is no disputing that the transportation and attempt to treat fracking waste fluid with its use of water laced unidentified chemicals is a threat to the health and safety of Maryland residents, subjecting drinking water resources, wells and aquifers to the risk of contamination. For these reasons Clean Water Action supported House Bill 269 sponsored by Del. Robinson which would have prohibit any company from shipping or transporting, storing, treating, or discharging in the State, wastewater resulting from hydraulic fracturing activities occurring in another state. Unfortunately the bill failed.