The Chesapeake Bay in December 2020. Maryland lawmakers are preparing environmental legislation for the upcoming General Assembly. Photo by Rachel Clair for the Capital News Service.

Capital News Service – Maryland lawmakers and interest groups are hopeful that the Biden administration will usher in a positive impact on the environment in the state.

“We look forward to working with the Biden administration on important priorities like the Chesapeake Bay, climate change, and common-sense solutions that boost environmental progress and economic prosperity,” Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles said in a statement to Capital News Service.

President-elect Joe Biden, D, stated during his campaign that one of his primary concerns is the environment and climate change.

“Currently we are impressed with President-elect Joe Biden’s stance on climate change, and his position looks like it will be good for the planet and the Chesapeake Bay,” Chesapeake Bay Foundation President Will Baker said.

The main factor, though, in Biden’s success may be how easily he is able to pass legislation and how aggressive he will be. If Congress remains politically split, this may prove difficult.

How much can be done through the regulatory process versus executive order will be a big factor in how Maryland will be affected, said Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s.

The new Environmental Protection Agency under Biden will also have to evaluate what to address first following the Trump administration’s environmental rollbacks.

Trump rolled back clean water regulations with the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, which interest groups are nicknaming the “Dirty Water Rule.” The regulation weakened some clean water protections that have been in place since 1972 under the Clean Water Act, which is the primary federal law governing water pollution.

So, Biden needs to jump on bolstering the clean water standards and infrastructure once again, said Kate Breimann, state director for Environment Maryland.

This includes improving the treatment of stormwater and sewage. The issue is crucial to Maryland as a coastal state because waterways like the Chesapeake Bay are becoming increasingly polluted, Breimann said.

Baker told CNS in mid-November that the first step is for the next president to realize the importance of Chesapeake Bay regulations and funding.

“In its first budget, for fiscal year 2018, the Trump administration proposed cutting all funding for the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program (which) coordinates the cleanup effort among the six states of the watershed and the District of Columbia, the many federal agencies that play a role in the cleanup … across the watershed,” said Lisa Caruso, Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s DC communications coordinator.

Congress restored the funding.

Currently, there are a number of air and water pollution lawsuits pending against the Trump EPA. These lawsuits will not disappear, but the hope is to negotiate a settlement with the new administration, Baker said.

In the upcoming four years, the Chesapeake Bay should be given greater attention, but this is not up to just Maryland or the federal government, Pinsky said. More interdependence and uniformity on legislation among states across the watershed is necessary to see a positive change in the bay, he said.

Actual change in the bay must also target air pollution, as it is inextricably linked to water pollution, Baker told Capital News Service in mid-November.

“Thirty percent of nitrogen pollution is airborne,” Baker said.

Pinsky is co-sponsoring a bill, Climate Solutions Now, which he said will be introduced early in the January legislative session. Similar legislation did not pass in the last General Assembly session, which was shortened by the coronavirus pandemic.

The bill aims to reduce emissions by 60% by 2030, striving for net-zero emissions by 2045. It is expected to require greater energy efficiency, planting more trees, and converting public transportation buses to electric energy, Pinsky told CNS in November.

The major issues of what will be passed, and what money goes where, will hinge on what is available after funding continuing COVID-19 relief measures, Pinsky said.

As the coronavirus, following the Thanksgiving holiday, has spiked to record numbers nationwide, the pandemic is a financial “hole,” and an impediment for environmental gains, said Pinsky, who chairs the state Senate’s Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.

Sectors heavily impacted by the virus need the money first, such as businesses and health care, leaving less money for areas like the Chesapeake Bay and environmental protection measures.

The economy is also not in the best place to increase spending right now, as there are major deficits on the national and state levels, Pinsky told Capital News Service.

“By most objective criteria, the economy did fairly well until the pandemic hit. Unemployment was low, growth was robust and wages had started to rise. The improvement even started to show up in traditionally depressed parts of the country (Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, parts of Ohio),” University of Maryland business professor Kislaya Prasad said.

Economic downturn does not create the best opportunity for green initiatives, which tend to be more costly.

When green initiatives are instituted, some things will cost more and some industries will feel the economic effects more than others.

At the same time, new jobs are created in making those renewable energy resources, University of Maryland business professor Kislaya Prasad said.

According to Prasad, the cost of renewable energy has been falling — so there may be increased money that could be allocated toward the environment.