Protecting our environment so that our children and grandchildren will be able to enjoy the same standards of living we enjoy is a top priority of mine. Since my appointment as Vice Chair of the Environment and Transportation Committee in 2015, I have been able to influence the outcome of important environmental legislation. As Chair of the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Open Space subcommittee, I oversee legislation affecting Chesapeake Bay fisheries, farming, hunting regulations, and land preservation. I’m very proud to serve the State of Maryland in both of these roles.
Healthy Soils Program – HB 1063 – One of the issues I care the most about is climate change. Last year, the Governor signed legislation that sets a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030. While traditional greenhouse gas reduction strategies focus on reducing the emission of carbon that goes into the atmosphere, healthy soil practices, or “soil-smart” practices, can remove carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it in the soil. The added carbon improves the yield and profitability of the soil, a benefit to Maryland farmers.
Healthy soil techniques include planting mixed cover crops, adopting no-till or low-till farming practices, rotational grazing, and using charcoal-based composts.
This bill establishes a Healthy Soils Program within the Maryland Department of Agriculture. The program’s goal is to educate and assist Maryland’s agricultural community about these practices, support efforts already undertaken by many of Maryland’s farmers, and, ultimately reduce carbon emissions and help protect Maryland from the drastic effects of climate change.
Sediment Control – HB 557 – The redevelopment of the old Sparrows Point site by TradePoint Atlantic has the potential to add thousands of jobs in Baltimore County. Unfortunately, the current process for governmental approval of sediment control plans at sites such as Sparrows Point can be lengthy and cumbersome. This bill will streamline the process of approving sediment control at large redevelopment sites by transferring responsibility to the Maryland Department of Environment, which is best equipped to handle such reviews.
Other 2017 Environmental Legislation
In addition to passing a fracking ban (HB 1325), the legislature approved several other important legislative initiatives. We overrode the Governor’s veto of a bill that will increase the State’s commitment to renewable energy to 25% of electricity sales by 2020 (2016 House Bill 1106). The General Assembly also codified a Public Service Commission order that requires utilities to continue their programs to improve the energy efficiency of homes and businesses (Senate Bill 184).
Three other noteworthy measures that came through my subcommittee were the following:
House Bill 924 Natural Resources – Oyster Management – Prohibited Actions: Protects oyster sanctuaries from harvesting until a management study is completed in 2018.
House Bill 602 Keep Antibiotics Effective: Limits use of antibiotics in livestock operations, which has been shown to reduce antibiotic resistance in humans.
House Bill 830 Pollinator Habitat Plans – Requirements and Prohibitions: Specifies policies that state agencies need to implement to protect bees when creating their Pollinator Habitat Plans.
The Reauthorization of the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act (HB 610), on which I was the first co-sponsor, became one of the nation’s strongest state environmental bills curbing carbon pollution. It set a new target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by the year 2030. As a state with over 3,000 miles of shoreline and a precarious coastal ecosystem, Maryland is especially susceptible to even the smallest environmental changes. This bill should significantly contribute to protecting Maryland’s environment, economy, public health, and Marylanders’ overall well-being. In addition to battling climate change, this bill is also expected to contribute to the creation of as many as 30,000 jobs in the renewable energy sector.
I proposed the “Healthy Air For All” Act (HB 1042), which would have required the Maryland Department of the Environment to reinstate regulations to reduce nitrogen oxide, a pollutant that causes ozone—and makes breathing difficult–on hot summer days. Governor Larry Hogan withdrew these regulations on his first day in office. Although the bill failed to pass the legislature, I will continue to advocate for laws that will enhance the quality of the air we breathe.
In 2015, I was appointed to the Maryland Climate Change Commission, which is researching the many issues Maryland will face in the coming years as the oceans rise and our weather worsens. In 2015, the General Assembly passed legislation that I proposed (HB 514) to create a permanent commission, made up of advocates, businesses, and educational institutions committed to addressing this issue. Information on the Climate Change Commission can be found on the Maryland Department of the Environment’s website by clicking here.