Heading in to this year’s general assembly session, the environmental community was concerned that our parks, wildlife, open space, and waters might take a backseat to other issues. We elected a governor and many new legislators that campaigned on less regulation-usually bad news for the environment-and on repealing the “rain tax.”
But all things considered, the environmental bills fared surprisingly well. Of the three pieces of legislation that Blue Water Baltimore worked on directly, two passed through both houses of the general assembly and will become law once signed by the governor.
The polluted runoff fee assessed to help pay for stormwater and flood prevention projects has been a serious point of contention since its passage in 2012. Three bills to repeal the program were introduced, but none of those made it out of committee. A fourth stormwater bill (SB863), introduced by Senate President Mike Miller, passed. SB863 is a stronger bill that gives counties more flexibility and requires much stricter accountability through annual reporting. Learn more on the (SB863) bill.
Plastic Bag Bill
Plastic bag pollution is a huge problem, not only in Baltimore but all across the state. This year, the general assembly considered (HB551), the Community Cleanup and Greening Act, which would have banned the distribution of plastic shopping bags altogether and charged consumers 10-cents for each paper bag used. We had a great sponsor in Baltimore Delegate Brooke Lierman, wonderful community advocates that came from Baltimore to testify in Annapolis, and a broad base of support all across the state. Unfortunately, Delegate Lierman had no choice but to withdraw the bill as the legislative session wound down. Even though (HB551) looked destined for passage, the Governor had previously stated that he would veto any bill that included any new fee or tax. Regardless, we have serious momentum on this issue, and Delegate Lierman has agreed to sponsor the bill again next year! Check out Trash Free Maryland to learn more.
For years, the benefits of microbead technology as exfoliants were heralded by the health and beauty industry. While they might make skin radiant and teeth whiter, they are also really bad for the environment. Microbeads are too small to be filtered out by wastewater treatment plants, so they make their way into our waters where they act like tiny toxin magnets, concentrating pollutants already in the water. They then enter the food chain when fish ingest them. Delegate Dan Morhaim introduced a bill (HB216) to ban the manufacture and sale of products containing microbeads, but the original language left a large loophole that allowed for the continued use of microbeads made from bioplastics, which are made from corn and are supposedly biodegradable. Unfortunately, this type of plastic does not break down in water, only in facilities where temperatures get hot enough to start the composting process. An amendment was added to close that loophole, and (HB216) passed unanimously through both houses of the legislature! Distribution of products containing microbeads will stop in 2018, and they must be off store shelves by 2019.
Environmental Bills this Session
The General Assembly considered many other environmental bills this session, and while Blue Water Baltimore did not work on them directly, we supported efforts to pass them. Here are a few of the major bills that were considered:
Legislators passed a 2.5–year moratorium (HB449) on hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” as a method for extracting natural gas from the earth. During this time, the subject will be studied to determine whether or not fracking can be conducted safely and in an environmentally-responsible manner in our state.
The Pollinator Protection Act (SB163) would have required plants or seeds treated with neonicitinoid pesticides to be labeled accordingly. “Neonics” have been identified as a major contributor to the decline in honeybee populations. Industry representatives testified that current science was inconclusive and that no causal link had yet been established between neonics and bee health. The bill was held for scientific study over the summer and will be reintroduced next year.
A three-year pilot program to allow renters and property owners with the inability to install solar panels on their own homes to purchase renewable energy was established. Know as the Community Solar bill, (HB1087) will provide nearly 80 percent of Maryland residents with the opportunity to cooperatively purchase solar-generated energy instead of having to rely on polluting fossil fuel sources.
Low-income communities and communities of color have traditionally suffered greater environmental degradation and higher risks of negative health outcomes as a result of inequitable development. (HB987) would have required the Maryland Department of the Environment to conduct a “cumulative impacts analysis” to examine the full extent of health risks from air pollution in neighborhoods designated as Health Enterprise Zones. This bill received an unfavorable report and died in the House Environment and Transportation committee.