April 22, 2019

Senate Celebrates Legislative Successes on Earth Day 2019

The Maryland Senate celebrates Earth Day this year in a special way after the 2019 General Assembly Session. Having passed several pieces of critical environmental legislation, Senators and environmental advocates statewide have great reason to celebrate. From the ban on polystyrene food containers to the Maryland’s Clean Energy Jobs Bill to new protections for Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay habitat and forests, 2019 has already been a banner year for environmental preservation in Maryland.

Banning Polystyrene

Senate Bill 285 from Senator Cheryl Kagan (District 17 – Montgomery County) prohibits the sale of polystyrene food service products in Maryland’s restaurants, food service businesses, and schools. A plastic product used in cups and other food containers, polystyrene is known to not biodegrade and has been proven to create detrimental environmental consequences for many years. Several studies have proven dire health impacts to both humans and wildlife. Polystyrene products have proven fatal to wildlife, and been known to cause numerous detrimental health impacts to humans including skin and respiratory irritation, headache, fatigue, and depression. This bill will halt the spread of this harmful environmental pollutant.

Creating Jobs Protecting Maryland’s Environment

The passage of the Clean Energy Jobs Act (Senate Bill 516) requires Maryland to receive 50% of its energy supply from renewable sources by the year 2030. The legislation sponsored by Senator Brian Feldman (District 15 – Montgomery County) increases current State energy efficiency goals and mandates a study of how to reach 100% renewable energy usage by the year 2040 (the current state mandate is 25% renewable energy usage by the year 2020). This effort will combat climate change and promote the creation of jobs that are a result of the development of clean, renewable energy sources.

Strengthening Maryland’s Oyster Population

Oysters are a critical part of Maryland’s history, economic security, and health of the Chesapeake Bay. Maryland has taken many steps over the years to protect and strengthen our native oyster population. SB 830 from Senator Sarah Elfreth (District 30 – Anne Arundel County) requires the Dept. of Natural Resources to convene a stakeholder group to develop recommendations to enhance and implement an oyster fishery management plan. This group will include involved parties from every corner of the state, and ensure that the recommendations of the stakeholder group are achieved through a consensus-driven plan. Similar consensus-based plans have shown great success in other areas of fisheries management. SB 448 from Senator Paul Pinky (District 22 – Prince George’s County) protects five critical oyster sanctuary areas by prohibiting oysters from these sanctuaries from being harvested.

Ensuring Local Voices Are Heard

SB 563 from Senator Obie Patterson (District 26 – Prince George’s County) requires that an environmental justice study is done before a landfill is constructed. The study has to examine the environmental, economic, and human costs of opening and operating the landfill. This bill makes sure that voices of those who will be most impacted by the construction of a landfill are heard before the process can get underway. While this bill passed the Senate with a strong bipartisan majority, it died in the House committee.

Making More Maryland Schools Green

While big environmental leaps are important, it is the little things in everyday life – such as remembering to turn off faucets and lights – that can make a difference and it is critically important that we educate the next generation in these lessons. SB 662 from Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr. (District 27 – Prince George’s, Charles, and Calvert Counties) will ensure that 50% of Maryland’s schools are Green School certified by 2026, making certain that the next generation of Maryland students recognize the critical environmental sustainability needs in their everyday lives. The funding in SB 662 will go to things such as increasing the number of environmental educators in Maryland, assist with student transportation to and from environmentally focused activities, and supporting statewide green events.

Stopping Cownose Ray Fishing

Cownose rays are complex creatures that play an important role in the marine habitat of the Chesapeake Bay. SB 143 from Senator Ron Young (District 3 – Frederick County) extends a current ban on cownose ray fishing until December 31, 2020. The original ban was enacted in 2017 to give the Maryland Department time to put together a management plan to ensure the health of the species. To date, no plan has been completed by the Department of Natural Resources and thus the necessity of extending the current ban.

Funding Flood Mitigation

As storm patterns become increasingly unpredictable due to climate change, flooding becomes an increasingly difficult problem to deal with. SB 269 from Senator Katie Fry Hester (District 9 – Carroll and Howard Counties) requires the Maryland Comprehensive Flood Management Plan to provide $8M in funding in the State budget over the next three years. After historic flooding in Ellicott City along with other recent flooding incidents on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Montgomery County, and in the cities of Baltimore and Annapolis, the necessity of the legislation is eminently clear.

Protecting Maryland Forests

Forests are the backbone of Maryland’s environment and SB 729 from Senator Guy Guzzone (District 13 – Howard County) seeks to both study and promote the overall health of Maryland’s forest habitat. The legislation tasks the Harry Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology to partner with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the Maryland Department of Environment, and the Chesapeake Bay Program to conduct a study of forest cover and tree habitat throughout the State. Maryland is losing forest land at an alarming rate (roughly 2,000 football fields of forest land in 2018 alone). The goal of the study group will be to provide recommendations to prevent future forest loss while at the same time protecting economic growth and development. Currently developers have to either replace any trees they cut down during the building process, or they can make payments to county funds to replace any trees they remove. SB 234 from Senator Ron Young (District 3 – Frederick County) requires local governments to mitigate the same amount of forest that a developer would have had to mitigate and increase transparency around fee-in-lieu programs.

After a successful 2019 legislative session for the environment, more great things assuredly await for Maryland’s environment as the Senate approaches the 2020 legislative session.