Seven tough issues that could disrupt Maryland Governor-elect Moore’s climate program

In 2022, Maryland suffered from extreme climate and environmental change inertia driven by competing agendas from Republican Governor Larry Hogan and Democrats leading the state General Assembly.

In April, the General Assembly passed the Climate Solutions Now Act, which requires a 60 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2006 levels by 2031 and zero by 2045. the most aggressive legislative action in the country.”

The bill also sets energy efficiency standards for large buildings, raises the state’s energy efficiency goals, and codifies the definition of environmental justice communities for use by Maryland agencies while extending at least 40 percent of the benefits of certain federal programs to underserved communities. required under the Biden administration’s Justice40 initiative.

“But talk is cheap,” Pinsky said. “Now we have to translate policy into action.”

For environmentalists, the most important victory in 2022 was the election of Democrat Wes Moore as governor, which will soon resolve the split between the Republican governor and the Democratic legislature.

But the Moore administration will face a myriad of challenges, advocates warned, naming seven major challenges they believe could jeopardize his progressive vision of a cleaner, climate-resilient Maryland.

“Catastrophic Accidents” at the Baltimore Wastewater Treatment Plant

As the year draws to a close, Baltimore’s Patapsco and Back River facilities – two of the largest wastewater treatment plants in Maryland – are still struggling to overcome operational and management failures that have resulted in huge illegal discharges from facilities, putting the public health and polluting the tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay.

Things got so bad that in March the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) took the unprecedented step of asking another state agency, the Maryland Environment Service, to take over operations in the Back River. The plant was in such a state of disrepair that MDE said there was a risk of “catastrophic failures that could harm the environment, as well as adverse effects on public health and comfort.”

MDE also filed a lawsuit against the city of Baltimore to stop unauthorized releases of pollutants, including nitrogen and phosphorus, from two wastewater treatment plants, which it said undermined efforts by Maryland and other Bay Watershed states to restore the Chesapeake Bay.

Maryland and Baltimore environmental officials later agreed to a consent decree that allowed the state to control operations for the remainder of the year. A similar agreement has yet to be agreed on the Patapsco facility to ensure that it also complies with permitted discharge limits.

In another case filed by Blue Water Baltimore under the Clean Water Act, a federal judge in Maryland ordered the city of Baltimore in October to submit monthly reports on the status of improvements at the Back River and Patapsco wastewater treatment plants and whether the facilities are meeting requirements. with their permit requirements.

Separately, on Dec. 19, five Maryland nonprofits filed three lawsuits in Baltimore County District Court against MDE for an incomplete general industrial storm drain permit, which scrap yards, coal refineries, and landfills will have to file on Feb. 1. Environmental groups said the overall permit requirement lacked strict pollution controls, which would endanger waterways and further harm underserved communities.

Efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay

In October, the federal Environmental Protection Agency released its two-year key performance assessment, which concluded that Maryland and most other states participating in the Chesapeake Bay program have failed to reduce nutrient and sediment levels to meet targets set for cleanup of the country’s largest estuary by 2025.

Bay clean-up targets set by the Chesapeake Bay Program in 2014 require partner states, from New York to Virginia, to take steps to reduce nutrient inputs, principally nitrogen and phosphorus, from sources such as agriculture, human sewage water and burning fossil fuels, in the bay for a specific amount..

“The sooner we tell the truth and plan accordingly, the better we will be able to succeed,” said Adam Ortiz, EPA Mid-Atlantic administrator, hinting at the need for more time to achieve the goals of restoring the bay by 2025.

“Many of us on the ground have known for a long time that we won’t be able to meet the goals of restoring the bay by 2025,” said Betsy Nicholas, executive director of national nonprofit Waterkeepers Chesapeake.

She said that voluntary measures and incentives alone, such as paying participating states to implement good governance practices or government compliance assistance, instead of enforcement, would not clean up the bay. “Let’s actually hold polluters accountable for cleaning up our pollution in 2023. It is only by combining incentives with accountability that we can achieve the goals of cleaning up the bay,” she said.

Gaps in government environmental justice priorities

Various studies in 2022 found that Maryland agencies did not have policy guidelines or program capacity that could benefit from billions of federal funds to communities most affected by climate change, legacy pollution, and environmental hazards, such as Biden demands it. initiative of the administration of Justice40.

In October, the Center for Environmental Justice at the University of Maryland School of Public Health released a highly critical “scorecard” that evaluates nine government agencies on their practices and policies in protecting the environment and prioritizing services for communities disproportionately affected by environmental racism.

The report recommends that each government agency develop a strategic EJ plan, train employees to combat racism, and implement policies that encourage restorative action.

Regulatory Backlog

Some state legislators and environmentalists want the Moore administration to significantly increase MDE’s staff, which recently told Maryland legislators it needs 86 new employees for essential inspections and enforcement of pollution control measures required by a law passed by the state general assembly. in March.

“MDE had really good professional staff. But Gov. Hogan destroyed the agency and made it difficult for them to function properly,” said del Sarah Love, a Democrat from Montgomery County. Love was a major sponsor of a bill that went into effect in July that required MDE to inform legislators of its staffing requirements to strengthen law enforcement and regulation.

At the time of the law’s passage, the MDE assessed chronic debt on nearly 247 wastewater discharge permits that had expired, in some cases for several years.

MDE also has additional responsibilities under the new Climate Solutions Now Act, which include proposing a plan by June 30, 2023 to achieve a 60 percent reduction in statewide greenhouse gas emissions from 2006 levels by 2031. By the end of 2023, the agency must adopt a final plan to achieve the goal and put the state on a path to zero emissions by 2045.

Fossil fuel interests in key government agencies

During 2022, Governor Hogan’s appointment of leadership positions in key energy policy-making agencies disrupted the state’s clean energy ambitions, which environmentalists say is startling.

In September, the Office of the Maryland People’s Council (OPC) asked the state district court to order the Maryland Public Service Commission to investigate a gas utility company for defrauding its customers by falsely claiming that natural gas is cleaner than electricity and undermining its purpose. state. to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In its response, the Public Service Commission stated that it was not interested in investigating the allegation and stated in its lawsuit that there is such a thing as “clean” energy. “[T]Only “clean” energy is not energy,” the commission said. “If you put aside the activist inclinations, solar and wind generation become quite “dirty”.

The PSC’s stance on “clean” energy has been heavily criticized by environmentalists and scientists, who have called it “bullshit” and “a sign of intellectual cowardice”.

Separately, the Maryland Energy Authority (MEA) announced $9.25 million in grants to expand the state’s natural gas infrastructure, angering environmentalists who called the move a sop for the fossil fuel industry and undermining the state’s clean energy and electrification goals.

Expensive, dirty waste-to-energy projects

In 2021, Maryland taxpayers paid at least $57 million to subsidize dirty energy such as garbage incineration, burning wood waste and garbage, and so-called landfill biogas, up from about $1 million in 2008, according to data. collected by non-profit government employees. for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

“I wouldn’t be surprised if by 2030 Maryland taxpayers have poured nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars of their money into subsidizing dirty energy sources since 2008,” said Timothy Whitehouse, chief executive of PEER, which compiles annual state estimates. dollars going into dirty waste-to-energy projects. “These subsidies hurt low-income taxpayers the most and hurt our fight against climate change.”

Threats from new pollutants

Hazardous per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals, known as “PFAS” or “timeless chemicals”, are a growing concern in Maryland and across the country. The General Assembly passed legislation banning the manufacture, sale, or use of products containing PFASs, and an infrastructure bill passed by Congress in 2021 gave the Environmental Protection Agency more than $50 billion to repair the nation’s major water infrastructure.

The EPA will allocate $68 million to MDE from an infrastructure bill in fiscal year 2023 to replace lead plumbing and treat so-called new pollutants, including PFAS in sewage and stormwater.

Some of the new pollutants are far more dangerous to human health than previously thought, EPA’s Adam Ortiz said, referring to grants tied to largely unregulated chemicals and compounds that pose a risk to waterways and aquatic life. “We need to help all these utilities, whether they are big or small, get active, and infrastructure hasn’t always kept up with the science. But this is our opportunity to close this gap,” he said.

Nicholas of Waterkeepers Chesapeake said MDE will need technical guidance from the Environmental Protection Agency to build its regulatory and enforcement capacity to address PFAS by enacting statewide requirements to protect public health.

Content Source

Dallas Press News – Latest News:
Dallas Local News || Fort Worth Local News | Texas State News || Crime and Safety News || National news || Business News || Health News

Related Articles

Back to top button