The 442nd session of the Maryland legislature adjourned on April 12, 2021.
There were no balloons dropped from the balconies at sine die, ostensibly because of Covid-19 social distancing there were no high school pages to drop celebratory balloons from the balconies, but it is worthy of note that this year the legislature passed House Bill 391 making illegal intentionally releasing balloons (see below)?
During the 90 day General Assembly session, 47 senators and 141 delegates considered 2,347 bills and passed 817. Only 42 bills of those passed involve environmental matters. The Governor has until the 30th day after presentment to sign or veto bills.
This post is a compilation of the environmental legislation enacted this session.
Time and space do not allow a recitation of the bills that failed, but many did not pass in a session that was widely heralded as successful, including a much discussed Senate bill that would have made broad changes to Maryland’s approach to reducing statewide GHG emissions and addressing climate change that was not well received in the House.
Maryland has been described as having more pages of environmental statutes and regulations on a per capita basis than any other state. The new laws compiled below add to that already very green environmental regulatory scheme. Savvy players in the environmental industrial complex and associated industries will find business opportunities to lead and profit in environmental matters, including opportunities advantaged by these newly enacted laws.
The Maryland Attorney General recently issued an opinion concluding that the placement of a protective easement on an already existing forest, as opposed to intentionally created or restored forest, does not qualify for forest mitigation banking. House Bill 991 responds modifying the definition of “forest mitigation banking” to be the intentional restoration, creation, or qualified conservation of forests undertaken expressly for the purpose of providing credits for afforestation or reforestation requirements with enhanced environmental benefits from future activities. “Qualified conservation” is defined as the conservation of all or a part of an existing forest that was approved on or before December 31, 2020, by the appropriate State or local forest conservation program for the purpose of establishing a forest mitigation bank and is encumbered in perpetuity by a restrictive easement, covenant, or another similar mechanism recorded in the county land records to conserve its character as a forest. As such, the bill retroactively allows qualified conservation that was completed in a forest mitigation bank on or before December 31, 2020, to be used, under both State and local forest conservation programs. However, the bill limits the afforestation or reforestation credit that may be granted for the use of qualified conservation to no more that 50% of the forest area encumbered in perpetuity.
The bill, that may be the single most significant enactment of the session, also establishes a new policy of the State to support and encourage public and private tree planting, with the goal of planting and helping to maintain 5,000,000 sustainable native trees in Maryland by the end of 2031. The bill provides that it is the intent of the General Assembly that at least 500,000 of those trees be planted in underserved areas. The Governor must formally pledge the State’s commitment to achieving the bill’s tree planting goals through the World Economic Forum’s One Trillion Trees Initiative.
To help achieve these goals, the bill alters and directs additional resources to a number of existing programs and initiatives, including by way of example, in fiscal 2023, $2.5 million must be transferred from the Wastewater Account of the Bay Restoration Fund to the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays 2010 Trust Fund for tree plantings on public and private land, and for fiscal 2024 through 2031, the Governor must include an annual appropriation of $2.5 million in the State budget for tree plantings on public and private land. The bill also establishes a $10 million annual Urban Trees Program, administered by the Chesapeake Bay Trust, for the purpose of making grants to qualified organizations for native tree-planting projects in underserved urban areas. Additionally, the bill establishes a Commission for the Innovation and Advancement of Carbon Markets and Sustainable Tree Plantings charged with developing a plan to achieve the State’s carbon mitigation goals.
Reduction of Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Climate Change, and Tree Planting
Senate Bill 359/ House Bill 80 require the Maryland Department of Transportation to develop an urban tree program to replace trees that are removed during the construction of a transportation facility project, including the area impacted by the Purple Line project.
House Bill 30 requires the Office of the People’s Counsel, in determining whether the interests of residential and noncommercial users are affected by each matter before the Public Service Commission, to consider the public safety, economic welfare, and environmental interests of the State and its residents, including the State’s progress in meeting its greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals. Under the bill, Office is also required to hire at least one assistant people’s counsel to focus on environmental issues, and the amount that Office may assess for its costs and expenses is increased. Finally, the bill adds the People’s Counsel as a member of the Maryland Commission on Climate Change and the Maryland Zero Emission Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Council.
Prohibition on Balloon Releases
Senate Bill 716/ House Bill 391 prohibit, with very limited exception, a person from knowingly and intentionally releasing, or causing to be released, a balloon into the atmosphere or organizing or participating in a “mass balloon release,” as defined. The bills establish a civil penalty of up to $100 per violation for organizing or participating in a mass balloon release. A person who violates the prohibition against knowingly and intentionally releasing, or causing to be released, a balloon into the atmosphere must watch a re-educational video and/or perform community service. Generally, the Maryland Department of the Environment must enforce the prohibitions, but MDE is authorized to delegate enforcement authority to specified local authorities.
Environmental Standing and Environmental Justice
Senate Bill 334/ House Bill 76 establish that a person who meets the threshold standing requirements under the federal Clean Water Act has an unconditional right and the authority to intervene in a civil action initiated by the State in State court to require compliance with certain water pollution control measures. A person exercising this right to intervene must act in accordance with applicable practices, procedures, and laws in the State. A person who meets the requirements to intervene under the bills has the same rights as an interested person or aggrieved party under CWA, including the right to apply for judicial appeal. Continue Reading