The 2016 Maryland General Assembly is off to the races with close to 1,000 bills under consideration. Among the legislation introduced into this year’s mix are many important bills concerning environmental issues, which are described below. Big changes happen during Maryland’s short legislative sessions, and Maryland gets high marks for taking the lead on environmental issues.
Maryland is one of a few states that deregulated utilities giving homeowners the ability to choose climate-friendly electricity and natural gas options. Maryland is one of ten states supporting community solar, and offers its residents EmPOWER Maryland energy efficiency programs with up to $4,300 in rebates. The 2009 Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act enacted limits on our state’s pollution levels long before some states will even utter “climate change.” Chesapeake Bay clean-up legislation – waste treatment plant fee, stormwater management fees, and the detergent phosphate ban – have made inroads in reducing harmful water pollution.
1. Bottle Bill
Redeemable Beverage Container Recycling Refund & Litter Reduction Act (SB 367 / HB TBD)
Can you believe this crazy stat? Only 25 percent of the 4 billion beverage containers sold each year in Maryland are recycled. Addressing this waste, this bill would impose a 5-cent refundable deposit on beverage containers. The deposit is refunded when the containers are returned for recycling in reverse vending machines. Ten states have bottle deposit programs and their average container recycle rate is 75 percent. Click here to learn more.
2. Bee Bill
2016 Pollinator Protection Act (SB 198 / HB 211)
No bees, no food. As apiary colony collapse disorder continues, Maryland beekeepers lost 61 percent of their bees last year. That’s double the national average. This bill takes the toxic neonicotinoid pesticides off the shelves. The bill also requires manufacturers to label if plants or seeds are treated with neonics. Click here to learn more.
3. Plastic Bag Ban Bill
The Community Cleanup and Greening Act (SB 57 / HB 31)
Used for about 12 minutes, but on this planet for thousands, flimsy plastic bags are everywhere. Literally. Plastic bags keep the Inner Harbor’s Mr. Trash Wheel busy while also clogging-up harbors, rivers, even the recycling sorter machines. This bill would require all Maryland stores to stop offering plastic bags, and to sell a paper bag for a dime. Customers would receive a nickel credit for each bag they supply. Click here to learn more.
4. Chicken Manure Bill
Poultry Litter Management Act (SB 496 / HB 599)
Maryland’s chicken farmers are contractually responsible for disposing of extra chicken waste, not the mega-producers like Tyson Foods and Perdue Farms. Add to that, 200 new chicken houses have been approved for the Delmarva, so there will just be more chicken manure and its runoff polluting waterways. This bill would require chicken producers, not Maryland’s local farmers, to foot the disposal bill (according to Food and Water Watch – $4 million/year) for trucking the extra manure that’s not needed to fertilize local farms. Click here to learn more.
5. Keep On, Keeping On Cutting Greenhouse Gas Bill
2016 Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act (SB 323 / HB 610)
Enacted in 2009, the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act (GGRA) committed the state to reducing our collective climate pollution by 20 percent by 2020. The GGRA expires in 2016 and this bill not only renews the legislation, but also bumps up the greenhouse gas reductions to 40 percent by 2030. Click here to learn more.
6. Dial-Up the Renewables Bill
The Clean Jobs Act (SB 921 / HB TBD)
If the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act is the overarching strategy to reduce pollution, this bill is the tactical lever that improves the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard to 25 percent by 2020, up from 20 percent by 2025. It’s a tad wonky, but this legislation forces Maryland utilities to buy and deliver into the grid a certain percent of renewable energy. This action essentially forces demand which will hopefully increase renewable supply. This bill also adds funding for green job creation. The word on the street is that another bill will soon be introduced to “strip out” certain questionable renewables from this energy portfolio (burning manure, black liquor and municipal waste). Click here to learn more.
This eco-bill list isn’t complete as more bills will be introduced. Another poultry-related bill – The Farmer’s Rights Act – will propose laws to level the playing field between poultry producers and local farmers. Also heard is that a bill questioning the safety of trains traveling through Maryland carrying fracked oil will be introduced. On April 11, which marks the end of the session, we will review the fate of the environmental bills. Good or bad? We shall see.