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Environmental Priorities in the 2009 Maryland Legislative Session
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by David O’Leary | 2008

The new year signals the start of a new legislative session in Maryland. In 2009, discussions of the state budget are expected to dominate throughout the session.

The new year signals the start of a new legislative session in Maryland. In 2009, discussions of the state budget are expected to dominate throughout the session.

Over the past several months, members of the Chapter Conservation Committee have discussed priorities for conservation campaigns and have coordinated with the leaders of other environmental groups across the state regarding priorities. Legislative work is a key part of the strategy to achieve many of our conservation goals. Sierra Club members from across the state play an important role in our efforts to convince elected officials of the importance of the environment among the many issues they consider.

 

Top Priority: Defund the ICC, Pass Global Warming Solutions Act

For the 2009 Legislative session, which runs from January 14th through April 14th, the Chapter’s legislative priorities are to pass a bill to withdraw funding from the Intercounty Connector (ICC) project and to pass the Global Warming Solutions Act. In addition, we will advocate for our budget priorities, which again include removing funding from the ICC and protecting the money for Program Open Space and the Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund. We also anticipate a series of bills to implement more effective “smart growth” programs in the state, along with many other good and bad bills that legislators will introduce relating to the environment.

The Global Warming Solutions Act is a bill that provides a framework for the state to reduce global warming pollution by 20% by the year 2020. This target is based on key recommendations from the Maryland Commission on Climate Change, which studied this issue extensively to determine the feasibility and cost associated with reducing global warming pollution from various sources. The 2009 bill looks quite similar to the 2008 proposal that was defeated; however, it is expected that a reduction target for 2050 will be dropped for this year’s bill. State environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, are participating in facilitated conversations with representatives of labor and industry to determine if there are additional opportunities to shape the bill.  This early collaboration increases the likelihood of the bill’s passage while maintaining its integrity. Contact Alana Wase in the chapter office (301-277-7111 or alana.wase@mdsierra.org) for more information, and check these web sites: www.alliancemd.org/ and www.mdclimatechange.us/.

Stopping the building of the Intercounty Connector is another priority. This road will cause immense direct and indirect damage to air and water quality in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, and heavily impact some of the area’s few remaining stretches of forested land. The project is already affecting the state financially. It is time to stop building mega-road projects that induce more sprawl, and invest in better communities and transportation options. We cannot pave our way out of the traffic congestion problems that we face. A bill is being introduced to stop the transfer of money from the state’s General Fund to continue building the ICC, and to stop further issuance of debt to fund the road.

Support is needed from across the state to protect important safety and maintenance projects in the transportation budget, restore cuts to MARC and bus service, and improve transit. Contact Greg Smith at “stoptheicc@igc.org” and Suchitra Balachandran at “cp_woods@yahoo.com” to learn more and find out how you can help.

As noted above, the state budget, while always important, will be especially critical this year given the shortfall in tax revenue. Important programs to protect open space and the Chesapeake Bay have already experienced significant budget cuts, and we need to work to assure that these programs are not impacted further. If the state does not transfer money to continue building the ICC, tens of millions of dollars from the General Fund should be available for other programs.

There will almost certainly be dozens of other bills that relate to environmental issues discussed in the General Assembly this session. So far, we are aware of bills that work to improve our smart growth regulations and policies, seek to broaden access to the courts (standing), provide funding incentives to increase organic farming, promote green jobs, and protect neighborhoods against polluting projects.

If you are interested in helping with any or all of these bills, please contact David O’Leary on 301-277-7111 or at dave.oleary@mdsierra.org. While specific policy knowledge is helpful, it is certainly not required. Anyone willing to make phone calls, write letters, or help with organizing friends, neighbors, and Sierra Club members is welcome.  n

 

David O’Leary is the conservation chair of the Maryland Chapter.

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