What Happened During the 2012 Maryland General Assembly Session
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by David OLeary and Sarah Peters |
Environmental issues were prominent during the General Assembly this year, including key decisions about the states energy future and efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. Other big issues received significant attention, including marriage equality, and, of course, the state budget. In a short ninety-day session, most decisions on these bills came down to the last week or twoand frequently the last day or the last hour!
By David O’Leary and Sarah Peters—Environmental issues were prominent during the General Assembly this year, including key decisions about the state’s energy future and efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. Other big issues received significant attention, including marriage equality, and, of course, the state budget. In a short ninety-day session, most decisions on these bills came down to the last week or two—and frequently the last day or the last hour!
Thanks to the Sierra Club staff and volunteers who worked on many important bills—lobbying and rallying in Annapolis, attending town hall meetings, and calling and sending email messages to legislators.
For more than two years we have advocated for bills to facilitate the construction of an offshore wind farm. A large coalition, including the Sierra Club and other environmental, labor, faith, and community groups, worked closely with Governor O’Malley’s staff and key legislators to pass the bill this year, but we were unsuccessful. The bill passed the House, but we were unable to get enough votes in the Senate committee. Given the effort involved so far, this was quite a disappointment. We are working with our coalition partners to determine next steps toward this goal.
Three major bills were introduced to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, and we achieved much greater success with these bills, although the outcomes were uncertain until the final days of the session.
A bill passed to double the fee collected for the Bay Restoration Fund (“flush tax”) from $30 per year to $60 per year. This fund is used to fund wastewater treatment plant upgrades, agricultural programs, and other important Bay cleanup efforts. A bill requiring the higher-population counties to collect a “stormwater utility fee” also passed. Each county is given flexibility to structure the fee. But it must be tied to the amount of impervious surfaces like pavement and roofs, and it must be used for local programs to reduce polluted run-off during rain storms, and to repair damage from storm run-off. Although this bill was weakened by not including all counties, it is still a major step forward. And a bill passed requiring all counties to designate various tiers of land-use areas with varying limits on the size and location of subdivisions constructed using only septic systems. Although this bill was also weakened with amendments on the Senate floor, we hope that it provides an important step forward in recognition of this significant source of water pollution and of the issue of externalized costs of pollution.
Numerous bills addressing regulation and fees associated with natural gas drilling were introduced, but only one bill passed, also on the last day of the session. It defines a “presumptive impact area” as one in which the burden of proof is placed on the gas-drilling company to demonstrate that their actions are not responsible for water contamination. A bill to establish a fee on mineral rights leases for funding the state’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission did not pass, and the implications for the commission are still being determined.
Renewables and Recyclables
Other bills relating to renewable energy met with mixed success. A bill that increases the utilities’ requirement for use of solar energy passed; the date by which electric utilities are required to provide 2% of our electricity from solar generation was changed from 2022 to 2020. A “Community Renewables” bill, which would make it easier for groups to invest collectively in and benefit from renewable energy projects like the University Park Solar Co-op, did not pass. Chris Stoughton from the Montgomery Group travelled to Annapolis to lobby and testify in support of this bill, along with representatives from clean-energy groups and community groups from across the state. A bill to add geothermal heating and cooling to the state renewable portfolio standard passed.
Some recycling bills passed, including bills that require higher goals for county recycling plans and inclusion of plans for recycling in apartment buildings and condominium complexes. Unfortunately, the bill to place a fee on disposable bags once again did not pass this year. Despite local support, a bill that would enable Prince George’s County to establish a local bag fee also did not pass.
A bill that places a ban on the use of arsenic-based products in chicken feed passed, after multiple attempts in recent years.
Two bills which increase election transparency by requiring additional disclosure passed, but more meaningful campaign finance bills did not receive committee votes. Cliff Terry once again tracked and testified in support of key proposals on this issue.
Reaching agreement in the General Assembly on the state budget was a bigger problem than usual this year. At the time of this writing, it is still unclear how this situation will be resolved. A budget including significant funding for important environmental programs was passed before the end of session deadline, but many feel that the numerous cuts to state programs in this budget are not acceptable. As of this writing, it seems likely that the governor will call a special session of the General Assembly to renegotiate the budget.
We decided not to take a position on the gasoline sales tax. There was little likelihood that significant funding would be set aside over the long term for public transit. But even if it were, the protection for transit funding would be weak, as it is for “dedicated” funds in Maryland in general. As the proposal was not receiving much support, this did not seem like the best use of our limited resources.
Card of Thanks
Governor O’Malley proposed a strong package of environmental bills, including the offshore wind bill and two of the key Chesapeake Bay restoration bills. There were many legislators who led the way this year. Delegate Tom Hucker sponsored the stormwater utility fee bill and the ban on arsenic in chicken feed, and was a leader on offshore wind. Delegate Heather Mizeur was a leader on the bills dealing with natural gas drilling. Delegate Dana Stein sponsored the bill to increase recycling rates in the county plans and the community renewables bill. Delegate Dereck Davis, as Chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee, provided key support for the offshore wind bill. Senator Paul Pinsky led the effort on stormwater, community renewables, recycling in apartments and condos, and the Prince George’s County bag fee. Senator Brian Frosh sponsored bills to regulate natural gas drilling, the state bag fee, and energy efficiency.
We were disappointed to not have the support from Senators Anthony Muse and Catherine Pugh on the offshore wind bill.
The Work Ahead
Even with a relatively successful session, we still have a lot of work to do. Work will begin this summer to prepare for the 2013 General Assembly session, setting priorities and working with legislators on bills dealing with renewable energy and energy efficiency, fracking, and other topics. If you would like to get involved with the chapter’s legislative work and our efforts in Annapolis, please contact Chapter Director Josh Tulkin at the chapter office at email@example.com, or 301-277-7111. n
David O’Leary chairs the Maryland Chapter. Sarah Peters volunteers for the legislative committee and writes for Chesapeake.
> 2012 Table of Contents