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What Happened during MD’s 2023 Legislative Session?

After a whirlwind 90 days, Maryland’s 2023 Legislative Session ended on April 10th. Legislators considered over 2,000 bills this session and passed several priorities from the environmental community. Blue Water Baltimore weighed in on over 30 bills that impact environmental and community health in the watersheds where we work. Read on to learn more about what passed, what didn’t, and what we’ll be coming back for in 2024! 

BWB Priorities: 

What we’re excited about: 

  • PASSED! Maryland Native Plants Program (HB0950 / SB0836)
    • This bill will support the growth of native plants and the native plant industry in Maryland by establishing a Maryland Native Plants program through the Maryland Department of Agriculture and the University of Maryland Extension. It will create a voluntary labeling program and logo, develop an online list of Maryland native plants, and create a Maryland grower/retailer certification program to help Marylanders buy and retailers sell native plants. Public education, coupled with the voluntary participation in labeling of plants as Maryland natives, will incentivize the growth of native plants in Maryland which offer a multitude of benefits to our waterways and our local ecosystems including stormwater pollution reduction.

What we’re disappointed with: 

  • Passed without key amendments: Baltimore Regional Water Governance Task Force (HB0843 / SB0880)
    • This bill establishes a Task Force to study and make recommendations regarding the governance model for Baltimore’s water system, which serves 1.8 million people in Baltimore City and surrounding counties. While there can be benefits to consolidating the management of water systems, there are also serious impacts that must be considered and mitigated based on experiences in other jurisdictions. Due to the inequitable outcomes of regionalization in other predominantly Black cities including Detroit and Birmingham, we supported the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition’s proposed amendments to the bill, which would have required a broader range of stakeholders to be represented on and consulted by the Task Force, meaningful opportunities for public input and engagement, racial and economic equity impact assessments, continuation of existing local ratepayer and labor protections, and a longer timeline for this complex work to be conducted. The General Assembly did not adopt any of these recommendations, increasing concerns that the Task Force’s work will not be transparent or participatory. Stay tuned for updates on the Task Force’s work throughout the year and opportunities to weigh in on the future of our region’s water system.  
  • Failed: Environment – Suppliers of Water – Notification Requirements (HB0624)
    • This bill would have increased public notification requirements in cases of drinking water contamination, such as the E. coli drinking water crisis in West Baltimore in September 2022. We and our partners advocated for a strengthening amendment requiring the issuance of a precautionary boil water advisory within 2 hours of the first positive E. coli detection so that residents can take steps to protect themselves while additional tests are conducted. Lawmakers did not adopt our recommendation and ultimately did not pass the bill in any form. 
  • Failed: Wastewater Facility Supplemental Operations and Maintenance Grant Program – Establishment (SB0392)
    • This bill would have directed new funding specifically to wastewater treatment plants that serve low income communities, including the Patapsco and Back River WWTPs. It would have helped address the inequitable financial burden put on Baltimore ratepayers and provided more resources to these facilities, which ultimately would mean cleaner waterways and healthier communities in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, and Anne Arundel County. 

Other Environmental & Community Health Bill Outcomes: 

  • Failed: Climate, Labor, and Environmental Equity Act of 2023 (SB743 / HB840)
    • This bill would have helped reduce environmental injustices in Maryland by requiring the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) and other key agencies to fully evaluate and report on the health, labor, and environmental impacts of proposed projects on marginalized communities prior to issuing permits.
  • Failed: Comprehensive Flood Management Grant Program – Environmental Justice Funding (SB0813 / HB0892)
    • This bill would have institutionalized Justice40 principles in Maryland’s comprehensive flood management grant program by requiring at least 40% of funding provided under the program to be used for projects located in or directly benefiting underserved or overburdened communities. It also would have increased annual appropriations for the program to $20 million beginning in FY25. 
  • Failed: Environment – Collection and Reporting of Drinking Water and Wastewater Data and Information – Requirement (SB0513)
    • This bill would have created an Open Water Data Reporting Platform to increase transparency around water and wastewater service provision and water shutoffs.  
  • PASSED! Environment – On-Site Wastewater Services – Board, Fees, and Penalties (HB0030 / SB0007)
    • This emergency bill will fix technical issues with the formation of the new Onsite Wastewater Board established during Maryland’s 2022 session. 
  • Failed: Environment – Products and Packaging – Labeling, Marketing, and Advertising for Recycling (HB0031)
    • This bill would have ensured that products labeled as “recyclable” actually have the potential to be recycled in Maryland.
  • Failed: Environment – Salt Applicator Certification Program – Establishment (HB0216)
    • This bill would have helped reduce the harmful effects of road salt pollution in our waterways by requiring MDE to establish a Salt Applicator Certification Program to encourage the use of salt alternatives for winter maintenance. 
  • Failed: Environment – State Wetlands – Shoreline Restoration (HB0602 / SB0417)
    • This bill would have increased living shorelines in Maryland by curbing the use of armored shorelines, prioritizing restoration zones where adding living shorelines would prevent erosion and improve habitat connections, and providing funding to convert aging, degraded hardened shorelines into living shorelines. 
  • PASSED! Equity in Transportation Sector – Guidelines and Analyses (SB0019 / HB0009)
    • This bill requires State transportation plans, reports, and goals to consider equity, helping prevent actions such as the 2015 cancellation of the Red Line light rail project in Baltimore. 
  • Failed: Housing and Community Development – Homeowner’s Extreme Weather Mitigation and Preparation Grant Program (HB0190 / SB0077)
    • This bill would have established a grant program to assist homeowners, local governments, and nonprofit organizations in preparing and repairing residential properties to mitigate water damage caused by extreme weather. It could have been a valuable source of funding for Baltimore’s sewage backup assistance programs.
  • Failed: Maryland Beverage Container Recycling Refund and Litter Reduction Program (HB1089)
    • This bill would have set up a recycling refund program for beverage containers, a tried and true policy for significantly reducing trash and litter in our streets, neighborhoods, and waterways.
  • PASSED! Maryland Sustainable Buildings Act of 2023 (HB0006 / SB0092)
    • This bill will require all newly built, acquired, or renovated buildings receiving 51% Maryland State funding to follow standards for bird-friendly windows and shielded nighttime lighting, which will both conserve energy and save birds.
  • PASSED! Natural Resources – Forest Preservation and Retention (HB0723 / SB0526)
    • This bill will update and strengthen forest goals to achieve net gain (rather than no net loss), protect and conserve more forest land and tree canopy, and give local governments more flexibility to pursue solutions that meet local development priorities and advance equity.
  • PASSED! Natural Resources – Greenspace Equity Program – Establishment (HB0503)
    • This bill will provide annual state funding to land trusts, local governments, and other community partners for greenspace in Maryland’s underserved and overburdened communities.
  • PASSED! Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority Sunset Act (HB0161)
    • This bill will commission an official state evaluation of the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority to study its efficiency, effectiveness, technical abilities, and purpose to help ensure local governments have the best solid waste infrastructure and planning possible moving forward. It directs Legislative Services to consider whether the continuation of the Waste Disposal Authority is necessary for the public interest and report its findings to the legislature by December 2024, along with draft legislation to merge the Waste Disposal Authority into Maryland Environmental Service. 
  • PASSED! Office of the Attorney General – Environment and Natural Resources Monitoring Unit – Establishment (SB0611 / HB0874)
    • This bill will add much needed support and accountability to Maryland state agencies that have enforcement authority of environmental laws by establishing a Monitoring Unit to investigate and prosecute violations of state criminal environmental and natural resources laws.
  • Passed with weakening amendments: Pesticides – PFAS Testing – Study (SB0158)
    • As originally written, this bill would have prohibited all sales and use of pesticides that contain PFAS, known as “forever chemicals,” by 2026 in Maryland. Lawmakers turned it into a study bill, requiring the Department of Agriculture to report its findings on PFAS in pesticides by November 1, 2023. Stay tuned for a ban on PFAS in pesticides during the 2024 session! 
  • PASSED! Private Well Safety Act of 2023 (HB0011)
    • This bill will establish a Private Well Safety Program to provide roughly 830,000 Marylanders who get their drinking water from a private well with the necessary resources and information to monitor and safeguard their household drinking water and ultimately protect their and their family’s health.
  • PASSED! Promoting Offshore Wind Energy Resources Act (HB0793 / SB0781)
    • The POWER Act will build more offshore wind power in Maryland by setting an ambitious goal of 8.5 gigawatts of offshore wind, beginning a process to prepare Maryland’s grid for more offshore wind energy, strengthening labor standards, and further building out existing lease areas. This bill will help create union jobs – including offshore wind manufacturing jobs in Baltimore County – lower energy costs, improve health outcomes, and help Maryland meet our climate targets. 
  • PASSED! Public Utilities – Energy Efficiency and Conservation Programs – Energy Performance Targets and Low-Income Housing (HB0169 / SB0144)
    • This bill will increase energy efficiency in Maryland by establishing a 1% goal for the limited income EmPOWER Maryland programs and requiring the Department of Housing and Community Development to make a plan to retrofit all limited income households with energy efficiency improvements by 2030. 
  • Failed: Public Utilities – Energy Efficiency and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reductions – Alterations and Requirements (SB0689 / HB0904)
    • This bill would have built on EmPOWER Maryland, the state’s successful energy efficiency program, by helping homeowners save money through energy efficiency rebates, aligning the program with the state’s climate goals, and maximizing the use of federal energy efficiency funds available from the Inflation Reduction Act.
  • Failed: Railroad Company – Movement of Freight – Required Crew (HB0352)
    • This bill would have required a minimum of two crew members on freight trains, creating safer working conditions for rail workers, improving the safety of communities living near rail lines, and protecting the environment by limiting the likelihood of a derailment and subsequent explosion or spill, such as the catastrophic derailment and fire in East Palestine, Ohio earlier this year. 
  • Failed: Reclaim Renewable Energy Act of 2023 (HB0718 / SB0590)
    • This bill would have eliminated three types of dirty energy from Maryland’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS): trash incineration, woody biomass, and factory farm methane gas. All three of these energy sources pollute the environment, harm nearby communities’ health, and contribute to climate change and therefore should not be eligible for state clean energy subsidies. 
  • Failed: Sewage Treatment Plants – Effluent Discharges, Discharge Permits, and Property Tax Credit for Impacted Dwellings (HB0924)
    • This bill would have added additional protections to empower MDE to identify and remediate operational problems at large wastewater treatment plants before they worsen and increase the costs to nearby residents, the environment, and taxpayers across the state. It also would have required MDE to investigate the link between the Back River WWTP and the exploding midge populations in the surrounding area. 
  • Failed: Solid Waste Disposal and Diversion and On-Farm Composting and Compost Use (HB1139)
    • This bill would have established significant funding for waste diversion projects and zero waste infrastructure including reduction, reuse, repair, composting, recycling, and anti-dumping by incorporating a nominal surcharge on waste disposal. 
  • Failed: Special Vehicle Registration Plates – Chesapeake Bay Trust and Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation – Appropriation (SB0866 / HB1257)
    • This bill would have protected Chesapeake Bay Trust and ‘Ag Tag’ license plate revenue by backfilling any lost plate revenue through the general fund. 
  • Failed: Take It Back Maryland Act (HB0517 / SB0575)
    • This bill would have helped prevent unused pharmaceuticals from entering and polluting our waterways and reduce overdose deaths in our communities by increasing awareness of and working to expand Maryland’s drug take back infrastructure.
  • Passed with weakening amendments: Sediment Control Plans, Discharge Permits for Stormwater Associated With Construction Activity, and Notice and Comment Requirements (HB0607 / SB0471)
    • This bill will help reduce a key source of water pollution: sediment running off of construction sites. As originally written, it would have provided state and local authorities the tools they need to prevent pollution before it occurs and hold polluters accountable when prevention measures fail. It was heavily amended to require updates to the Sediment Control Manual every 5 years, which is still a win, but not as protective as we and our partners wanted. 
  • Failed: Wetlands and Waterways Program – Authorizations for Stream Restoration Projects (HB0942)
    • This bill would have implemented important guardrails for stream restoration projects including requirements for public outreach and would have incentivized Upland Best Management Practices (BMP), or Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI).

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