Annapolis Report Week 12 – Environmental Protection and Smart Growth

April 3 is Maryland’s primary election!  Early voting ends tonight at 8pm!  (Those in line by 8pm will be able to vote.)  It was great seeing some of you at the Randallstown polling location last night.  I hope to see the rest of you on Tuesday.  Senator Ben Cardin needs our support.  With turnout low, every vote counts more than ever.

Another busy week here in Annapolis as we close in on the end of session, April 9th.  The House and Senate are taking up one another’s bills and ironing out the differences between our two versions of the budget.  Many of my election reform bills as well as my bill to promote bike and pedestrian access on Maryland campuses have passed the House and now await Senate action.  I’m often running across the street to testify before Senate committees.

The House passed a number of important environmental protection bills this week.  House Bill 987 essentially requires local governments to manage polluted storm runoff from streets and parking lots to prevent the pollution from contaminating our state’s water resources.  I am proud to co-sponsor this long-overdue legislation.  This is an issue I have dedicated myself to since taking office.

House Bill 446 reinforces the Bay Restoration Fund by increasing user fees for certain wastewater facilities, onsite sewage disposal systems, and sewage holding systems. This dedicated funding is essential for critical improvements to sewage plants and stormwater management systems.  I hope the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee will act swiftly and favorably on both of these vital pieces of legislation.

The House passed a bill levying a 7.5% severance tax on natural gas, including that obtained through hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to fund regulatory oversight and environmental cleanup if contamination does occur.  This represents a fiscally responsible way to oversee drilling and protect public resources from private exploitation, especially our precious water supplies.

The Senate just passed the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act, a bill to protect the Bay from harmful nitrogen pollution by regulating septic system planning.  To this end, the bill would classify growth areas across the state into one of four tiers based upon the present rate of growth and development to preserve the environmental integrity of certain areas while allowing smart growth on others.  In response to Republican criticism, the Act balances local and state authority: it allows local jurisdictions to determine the designation of lands in the four-tier mapping system, but maintains the state’s discretionary funding authority, an incentive for counties to incorporate state suggestions. Amid rapid development and sprawl in our state, I am very pleased that my Senate colleagues were able to come together to pass a bill which addresses the issue in a way that is sensitive of local interests.  Proudly, Maryland remains at the forefront of land-use policy nationwide.

Finally, my District 11 colleagues in the House are championing legislation to promote renewable energy generation and recycling.  Delegate Stein’s House Bill 864 would allow groups of residents or businesses to jointly own renewable energy projects, called “community renewable projects.”  Right now, only a single household or business can own a renewable energy project, such as solar panels. Under the bill, each owner of a community renewable project would get a credit on his or her utility bill for part of the energy generated by the project, providing an incentive for investing in the project.  House Bill 929 would increase county recycling requirements. Large counties would have to recycle a minimum of 35% of their municipal solid waste.  Delegate Morhaim’s House Bill 1237 requires the Maryland Energy Administration to study the use of county and state school buildings to collect solar energy.  House Bill 448 requires the State to meet certain environmental standards when purchasing electronic products and recycling them.  This would support local businesses that safely and responsibly recycle computers and electronics.  House Bill 879 improves the existing Statewide Electronics Recycling Program.  Both e-waste bills have passed the House and now await Senate action.

I am proud our District 11 Team, and the legislative body as a whole, is acting to protect and promote our natural resources in creative, responsible ways.

Jon S. Cardin