With the end of the 2014 Maryland General Assembly, dusk is most assuredly settling on the O’Malley regime, and it may be a propitious time to pause and consider what has been achieved over the past seven years, and where we may be headed once the Governor has decamped for other pursuits. The General Assembly session provides one interesting lens with which to frame that consideration, as the pieces of legislation that most centrally occupied the state’s environmental community constitute clear punctuation marks on the major environmental achievements of the last seven years.
The Governor can be justly proud of having established ambitious and secure goals, timetables, and strategic frameworks for improving the condition of the Chesapeake Bay and managing Maryland’s transition to a clean energy future. In this legislative session, Chesapeake Bay activists were most intently focused on contesting efforts to delay, defer, and denude key instruments for achieving those restoration goals and objectives. These efforts included a host of bills to repeal or otherwise disrupt legislation passed in 2013 to establish stormwater utility fees in the state’s ten largest counties, as well as several bills seeking to burden implementation of new rules governing the application of additional manure on already saturated farm fields.
Meanwhile, climate and clean energy activists targeted their efforts at improving (by addition as well as subtraction) one of the central implementation instruments for the state’s greenhouse gas reduction plan – the renewable portfolio standard.
As these pieces of legislation preoccupied environmentalists keen – as they probably should be – with tying a neat bow on the O’Malley legacy, other pieces of legislation represented the emergent energies in the environmental community, the energies and voices that seek to shape the contours of the debates that will define the next four or eight years.
Amongst the most insistent of these voices were those associated with SB725, the Poultry Fair Share Act. In seeking to impose a 5-cent fee per chicken on poultry integrators to generate revenue for cover crops, the legislation and its supporters hope to reframe agricultural pollution as a corporate accountability problem, and to expand advocacy ownership of the issue beyond the environmental community.
We also saw a number of important bills that raise questions about how to most appropriately frame our energy challenges and opportunities. The notable energy achievements of the O’Malley Administration have foregrounded the problem of greenhouse gas emissions and successfully championed solutions focused on changing the sources of our energy and reducing our use of it. These new pieces of legislation raised questions about the degree to which the framing of the problem and the solutions needs to move beyond a sources-and-sectors approach focusing on CO2, in order to address the energy transition question in a more transformative way.
A cluster of bills in the General Assembly – SB 786, SB 706, and SB56 – might prefigure an approach that would prioritize the structural changes that could produce an energy system that is not just cleaner, but also healthier, safer, fairer, and more democratic:
- The Community Renewable Energy Generating System Pilot Program (SB786) sought to task the Maryland Public Service Commission with authorizing pilot projects that would develop a better understanding of if and how ‘community renewable energy generating systems’ can be workable in the state. By allowing for the purchase of ‘subscriptions’ in community renewable systems and generate credits on their own electric bills, virtual net metering could substantially increase access of low income residents to the benefits of clean energy.
- The Cumulative Impact Assessments Act (SB 706) would have required the Maryland Department of the Environment to conduct a cumulative impact assessment before approving permits for landfills, incinerators, hazardous substance facilities and other projects that pose risks to the environment and to public health. This legislation seeks to address environmental justice concerns whereby low income and minority communities are disproportionately burdened by polluting facilities.
- The Maryland Recycling and Landfill Diversion Task Force Act (SB56) sought to establish a task force to make recommendations to the General Assembly about aggressive recycling and waste diversion goals. This legislation would complement the zero waste strategy – including a statewide 80% recycling goal – that the Department of Environment plans to announce later this spring. The draft strategy and the legislation have both been panned by segments of the environmental community, for pandering to the waste management industry, and treating ‘waste to energy’ incineration as an appropriate zero waste strategy.
Unlike the Poultry Fair Share Act, these pieces of legislation were not especially controversial within the environmental community. They did, however, represent an assertion of concerns about equity – environmental health and justice – that have only been present in marginal and episodic ways in the energy conversation over the last seven years. As with the corporate accountability framing of the Poultry Fair Share Act, social justice concerns have the potential to reshape the direction and recast the ownership of the energy issue. While this would undoubtedly be a boisterous process, many believe that it holds the potential to power significant – perhaps even transformative – change.
There is not a hard and fast distinction between those who are trying to fully realize the potential of the frameworks that O’Malley has helped achieve and those who are trying to change the conversation. There are differences, however, and these differences matter, especially if they can be made constructive.
It is useful to hold this formulation in mind when engaging with this docket. A significant portion of the docket is comprised of incremental work intended to fully realize the potential in O’Malley’s Watershed Implementation (WIP) and Greenhouse Gas Reduction (GGRP) Plans. We are recommending support for work to strengthen policies and regulations to achieve the Bay restoration goals embedded in the WIP, we are recommending support for work to expand local capacity to implement the strategies promoted by the WIP, and we are recommending support for work to encourage Marylanders to embrace the goals and strategies upon which the GGRP rests.
We are also, however, recommending support for work that seeks to define and propose bigger visions than those that animate the WIP and the GGRP. This work – on transforming our energy and food systems, and confronting the pathologies of perpetual growth – seeks to frame and engage ‘sustainability’ in its most challenging and, potentially, rewarding articulations.
Finally, we are also recommending support for work that we hope can cultivate estuarine spaces – highly productive venues for the mixing of incremental work and transformational perspectives. In this regard we are especially excited about the critical mass of leadership networking on this docket. These linked efforts to help local elected and appointed leaders learn together how to better develop and implement sustainability policies are organized around conventional approaches to sustainability, but we believe that they also have the potential to spawn more ambitious appetites.
For our Spring 2014 Grant Cycle our Board approved 35 grants in the total amount of $3,451,311.
National Wildlife Federation
Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
Chesapeake Bay Funders Network
Friends of Frederick County
Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy
Sassafras River Association
Center for Progressive Reform
Food & Water Watch
Assateague Coastal Trust
Maryland Environmental Health Network
National Caucus of Environmental Legislators
Institute for Environmental and Energy Research
Baltimore Sustainability Commission
Center for Environment and Society
Eastern Shore Land Conservancy
Physicians for Social Responsibility
Labor Network for Sustainability
Center for Sustainable Economy
Environmental Finance Center
Smart Growth America
Institute for Local Self-Reliance
Center for Emerging Media
Center for a Livable Future
Maryland Hospitals for a Healthy Environment
Crossroads Community Food Network
Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Corporation
If you have any questions please contact our Program Assistant, Megan Milliken. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Office: 410-763-8171