By emily Harris
Environmental issues in Maryland continue to draw attention in the wake of Chesapeake Bay Foundations’ Clean Water Rally in Annapolis on Feb. 24. Legislation that has been introduced this session covers everything from phosphorus management on the Eastern Shore to an attempt to repeal the so-called rain tax, to an eight year ban on fracking in the state. Here’s an overview of the issues and why you should take note.
Phosphorus Management Tool:
The controversy surrounding the phosphorus management tool (PMT) began long before Gov. Larry Hogan took office, and he did little to change that when he pulled the regulations from the Maryland Register within 24 hours of his inauguration. At its simplest, the PMT is a method of deciding what should happen with the chicken manure that poultry farmers are left with. Agriculture is just one of the sources of phosphorus pollution that degrades water quality, and the PMT is an effort to measure the fertility of the soil to determine how much manure should be applied, if any. The current tool, the phosphorus site index, is not based on accurate science and has not been updated in 10 years. Nutrient management is not unique to Maryland, with states all over the country at various stages in the process of developing nutrient management plans and strategies to deal with pollution impairing waterways like the Chesapeake.
The regulations were originally pushed through by former Gov. Martin O’Malley at the end of his term, and since Hogan pulled them, bills have been introduced in the state Senate and House of Delegates that align with O’Malley’s original plan. On Feb. 23, the Hogan administration announced their own phosphorus initiative, releasing the regulations less than 24 hours before the senate hearing for the PMT bill. While the concept is similar in all the present versions, Hogan’s regulations could be withdrawn if they didn’t appear to be working for farmers. The conversation has changed from a debate about whether Maryland needs the PMT to whether it should come from the General Assembly or the governor’s office.
This may sound like an issue that only affects farmers on the lower shore, but in reality, nutrient management is relevant to anyone that spends any time on the Bay or its tributaries. If nutrient pollution continues to increase unabated, the water quality will keep decreasing. Tourism, recreation, and fisheries are just a few of the industries that see negative effects as a result.
Members of the Student Environmental Alliance (SEA) felt so strongly about this issue that they decided to write letters to Hogan. “The Student Environmental Alliance decided to express our concern for Hogan’s choice to delay implementation of the Phosphorous Management Tool because we feel strongly that the PMT will vastly improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay… in time, this will restore the marine environment and economy,” said co-president of SEA Kelly Dobroski. “If not now, when?”
Repeal of the Rain Tax:
Stormwater runoff refers to the water and everything in it that runs off of streets into water ways following a storm. The stormwater remediation fee or rain tax was established in nine Maryland counties and Baltimore City during the 2012 legislative session. The fee applies to impervious surfaces such as driveways and other paved surfaces and county administrators were allowed to decide how much to charge.
The impact that the fee had on individual homeowners was negligible, particularly in counties that refused to implement a fee at all. The fee was intended to provide counties with a way to pay for updates to stormwater infrastructure, but it has been mistakenly described as a literal tax on rainfall. According to an article in The Baltimore Sun entitled “Miller moves to drop ‘rain tax’ mandate, make counties show instead how they’re curbing pollution,” one of the alternatives proposed by Senate President Miller is to do away with the fee altogether as long as the counties present their own plan for how to cover the cost.
What many people see as an imposition provided counties the opportunity to use the stormwater remediation fee to fulfill their federally mandated obligation to reduce stormwater pollution. Considering the lack of support for the rain tax, it is unclear how much support any plan from the counties will receive.
Following in the footsteps of states such as New York, a bill that would establish an eight year ban on fracking in Maryland has been proposed. Many state legislators have called for more research on the potential impacts of fracking, and this is not the first time a moratorium has been suggested.
Fracking was another issue covered by the regulations proposed by O’Malley late in his term. According to an article in the Washington Post, O’Malley was willing to allow fracking in the state as long as the companies followed best practices.
One of the arguments against increased regulation of fracking is that surrounding states have the opportunity to attract more companies, but with that advantage comes the liability of possibly contaminating drinking water.
All of these issues are important to clean water in Maryland, whether they contribute to the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay or simply maintaining drinking water resources. The point should not be to make it harder for farmers, counties, or environmentalists to accomplish their goals concerning cleanup of the Bay; the legislation or regulations should provide a fair and effective way to get the job done.