March Advocacy Updates

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We’ve been busy tracking local and state legislation since our last Advocacy Update

On March 16th, Baltimore’s City Council held a hearing on a bill to require City government operations become net zero. This was the final hearing on Councilman Mark Conway’s climate package. Now we need to tell the City Council to pass the full package! 

There were also hearings on our state-level priority bills to increase enforcement of pollution permits and to put environmental and community advocates on the Patuxent River Commission. Plus, a new bill was introduced to create a rebate for green infrastructure. 

See below for more details on our local and state advocacy priorities and how to take action! 

Baltimore City Council Climate Package Updates

The fourth bill in Councilman Mark Conway’s climate package, 21-0161 to make City government operations net zero by 2045, passed out of the Health, Environment & Technology Committee on March 16th.  This bill is an important stepping stone to achieve the Mayor’s goal of becoming a carbon neutral city by 2045 and requires City government to lead this transition by reducing its own emissions. 

It’s important to note that “net zero” does not mean the same thing as “zero emissions.” Becoming net zero simply means that Baltimore’s greenhouse gas emissions are balanced by the amount of emissions the city removes from the atmosphere through carbon sequestration, offsets, or other mechanisms. By contrast, zero emissions means a hard end to all emissions with no balance sheet or offsets. Zero emissions should be the ultimate goal in order to truly limit the effects of climate change, but well-crafted net zero policies can help cut emissions and build toward that target.

To that end, Blue Water Baltimore testified in favor of 21-0161 and worked with our partners at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the National Aquarium to propose eight strengthening amendments. These amendments speed up the timeline and add interim emissions reduction targets, reduce the use of carbon offsets, center environmental justice in implementation and reporting, increase participation and transparency, and ensure the City has adequate capacity to carry out the work outlined in the bill. 

The Health, Environment & Technology Committee adopted the majority of our suggested amendments and unanimously approved 21-0161. It will now be considered by the full City Council and then, if passed, will go to Mayor Scott for his signature. 

Two other bills in the climate package, Building Code – Cool Roofs (21-0160) and Procurement – Zero-Emission Vehicles (21-0159) remain in committee while councilmembers and City agencies work through amendments. 

Tell the City Council and Mayor to pass all three of these bills and ensure Baltimore City takes ambitious and equitable climate action! 

Maryland General Assembly Updates

There’s just a few weeks left in Maryland’s 2022 state legislative session. Over the past month, two of our priority bills had hearings and advanced, another was amended, and one was voted down. Plus, a new bill was introduced that we added to our priority list. 

  • Increasing Enforcement of Pollution Permits (SB0492 / HB0649): Roughly 70% of facilities with industrial stormwater permits are not in compliance across the state. This bill would require the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to increase its enforcement of pollution permits at facilities that are in significant noncompliance and to address the backlog of “zombie permits,” which have been administratively continued without being updated with the newest technology to protect public health. The House and Senate had hearings on this bill in late February. You can watch the Environment & Transportation Committee hearing here and the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee hearing here. Our Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper, Alice Volpitta, testified at both hearings. SB0492 passed the Senate today. Next, it goes to the House and then, if it passes, it will go to Governor Hogan’s desk for consideration. 
  • Putting Environmental & Community Advocates on the Patuxent River Commission (SB0367 / HB0716): In December 2021, Patuxent Riverkeeper Fred Tutman and other vocal members were ousted from the Patuxent River Commission. This bill would help remedy their removal by making the Patuxent Riverkeeper a permanent member of the Commission. The House and Senate had hearings on this bill in late February. You can watch the Environment & Transportation Committee hearing here and the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee hearing here. The House and Senate both passed amendments to add the President of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science to the Commission. The Senate also passed an amendment to add a watershed management and restoration expert to the Commission. Both bills have passed third reader in their respective chambers and now need to be approved by the opposite chamber before advancing to the governor.
  • Classifying Invasive & Native Plants (SB0007 / HB0015): This bill aims to increase the planting of native plants across Maryland. It would classify invasive plants and help residents identify native plants through a state website, exempt native plants from sales tax, and require state agencies and state-funded organizations to prioritize planting natives. You can watch the 1/25/22 Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee hearing on SB0007 here and the 1/26/22 Ways & Means hearing on HB0015 here. The Senate passed SB0007 with an amendment to remove the sales tax exemption for native plants. The House Ways & Means Committee will consider the amended bill in another hearing on 3/23/22. BWB is submitting favorable testimony and urging the House to put the sales tax exemption back in the bill, since we know it would make purchasing native plants at our Herring Run Nursery more accessible. 
  • Restricting Single–Use Plastics (HB0135): This bill would have reduced plastic pollution by preventing food service businesses from providing single-use plastic items such as utensils and straws automatically and only allowing the distribution of these items upon request. You can watch the 2/2/22 Economic Matters Committee hearing here. The committee gave an unfavorable report on the bill, preventing it from moving forward. 
  • Rebates for Green Infrastructure (HB1372): This bill creates a rebate for property owners to recoup the costs of installing green infrastructure such as rain gardens, cisterns, and green roofs on their property in an effort to increase green infrastructure across the state. As written, the bill would provide a rebate up to $4,000 for individual property owners and up to $20,000 for commercial property owners. The State of Maryland would provide 60% of the rebate and participating counties would provide the remaining 40%. Blue Water Baltimore testified in favor of the bill and suggested a few strengthening amendments. Most importantly, we want the bill to allow property owners in counties that do not opt into the rebate program to still qualify for the state portion of the rebate rather than creating an “all or nothing” system. You can watch the 3/9/22 Environment and Transportation Committee hearing here. This bill is still being considered in committee. 

We’re also supporting several other bills this legislative session focused on addressing climate change, providing equitable access to renewable energy and public transportation, reducing toxic chemicals, increasing composting, and more. You can learn about all of the state bills we’re tracking on our Engage in Advocacy webpage (scroll down to the “Other State-level Legislation” header) and stay tuned for action alerts over the next month! 

Take Action!