Bay jurisdictions’ no-action climate policy puts restoration in peril

This op-ed was originally printed by the Bay Journal on December 14, 2017.  Reprinted with permission.

By: Rena Steinzor and David Flores

Despite research demonstrating that climate change is adding millions of pounds of nutrient pollution to the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and his Bay states colleagues appear to be taking a page from the Trump playbook: Ignore this inconvenient truth.

Doubts about whether climate change is caused by humans and threatens the planet are rapidly going the way of urban legend. Just ask any resident of Puerto Rico, the Gulf Coast or California how life was during the three consecutive hurricanes or the wildfires that have plagued them this summer and fall. Reliable scientific research shows climate change is also compounding pollution in the Chesapeake. Rainfall exacerbated by these dire developments could mean millions of additional pounds of nitrogen and significantly more phosphorus reaching the Bay every year that will put restoration out of reach by 2025.

2018 marks the crucial midpoint assessment that should ensure restoration remains on track, saving the Bay from dead zones and protecting 18 million watershed residents from increased flooding and toxic algae blooms. Yet regional regulators and political leaders recently decided to let themselves ignore climate-induced pollution during this crucial reassessment, kicking this heavy can down the road until 2025 or later.

On Dec. 5, a Bay Program goal team charged with evaluating and recommending policies to restore water quality met to finalize proposals for what states must include in final restoration plans that will guide their actions through 2025. Over the last year, the team had developed a proposal to adopt a “comprehensive, straight-forward approach” to pollution attributable to climate change that “demonstrates [the] Partnership’s commitment to [the] Chesapeake Bay Agreement Climate Resiliency Goal.” For most of the year, Maryland had championed climate action as the policy, and models were developed by this and other Bay Program groups. But, ignoring this promise, Chesapeake jurisdictions instead advanced a totally new proposal that would defer action to eliminate the pollution until after the 2025 deadline.

To make things worse, the proposal would at best only require action to eliminate the pollution levels attributable to 2025 conditions. We know from the Bay partnership’s own research that the impact of climate change on the Chesapeake will worsen substantially from 2025 to 2050 and beyond.

Ironically, computer modeling suggests the harmful pollution resulting from climate change may be significantly greater than Hogan’s favorite whipping boy for this problem — pollution from the Conowingo Dam. The dam is no longer able to trap pollution coming down the Susquehanna River and has resulted in the need to reduce additional nitrogen and phosphorus flowing to the Bay.

Hogan and his environmental secretary, Benjamin Grumbles, talk a good game on climate change, advertising Maryland as a state taking progressive steps to fight the problem. That makes it all the more discouraging that the state’s representatives ultimately went along with the proposal to postpone a reckoning with climate change when it was approved.

Hogan and Grumbles have a chance to make it right and live up to their words by showing leadership when Bay states meet next week to finalize this and other policies. Maryland’s position should carry extra weight because the governor chairs the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council. Maryland has more beautiful beaches, wetlands and fisheries than most other Bay states, and its political leaders must remain tireless advocates for a better and faster cleanup.

On Dec. 19, Secretary Grumbles will chair a meeting with his counterparts from other Bay states and federal agencies to make final decisions on how to address the remaining pollution reductions necessary to restore the Chesapeake, giving him and Hogan just a little more time to shift gears and again support action grounded in science and good policy. At the meeting, they should Bay states to commit to eliminating the additional nitrogen and phosphorus pollution and addressing all of the adverse impacts that result from changing climate.

Failing to meaningfully address climate change in the Bay cleanup not only abrogates the states’ commitment in the Bay Agreement but also undermines the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s commitment under the Bay pollution diet, or Total Maximum Daily Load — in writing, at least — to incorporate climate change into the midpoint assessment.

Maryland should be persuading Pennsylvania and other states to step up — on climate change and the Conowingo Dam. By signaling the lack of will and intent to address these pollution loads as soon as possible, Bay jurisdictions are ignoring what the experts know it will take to clean up the Bay. They are repudiating rigorous, peer-reviewed science and promoting a lighter — but no less significant — form of climate denialism, despite their approval of modeling that demonstrates the climate-related pollution rates; nor have they voiced any objections to its rigor.

Hogan and Grumbles can still do something to ensure the jurisdictions don’t effectively kill the Bay cleanup, but they need to act with haste, before it’s too late.

The views expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect those of the Bay Journal.  Click here to read the op-ed on the Bay Journal’s website.

 

Healthy farms – and the climate – need healthy soils

This post originally appeared on the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition’s Blog on June 2, 2017:  http://www.marylandcleanagriculture.org/healthy-farms-and-the-climate-need-healthy-soils-6217/

Healthy farms – and the climate – need healthy soils (6/2/17)

For those who don’t spend a lot of time on farms, it’s easy to think of soil as simply dirt. But it’s much more than that. Fertile, healthy soil is made up of nutrients, micro-organisms, minerals and other organic material – all of which are vital to grow the food we all need. Healthy soils also naturally sequester carbon, preventing it from seeping into the air and contributing to the greenhouse effect that is causing climate change.

Unfortunately, currently there is not enough healthy soil to go around. In an agricultural landscape dominated by large-scale, industrialized farms, conventional factory farming practices, including tillage and pesticide use, erode soils, kill micro-organisms and emit huge quantities of greenhouse gases. These practices are not only harmful to the climate, but they hurt farmers too. Decreased yields mean less income for farmers and, in turn, less food for the rest of us.

To combat this, a new movement is emerging to restore the healthy soils we need to feed a growing population, support farmers and fight climate change. In the 2017 Maryland General Assembly legislative session, lawmakers passed first-of-its-kind legislation to promote healthy soils and incentivize farming practices that contribute to healthy soils and sequester carbon. The legislation defined “healthy soils” as the continuing capacity of soil to:

  • function as a biological system;
  • increase soil organic matter;
  • improve soil structure and water and nutrient holding capacity; and
  • sequester carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This is a big opportunity for both farmers and environmentalists to come together to find solutions to this problem. If farmers adopt healthy soil practices on a broad scale, such as no-till harvesting, planting cover crops and reducing or eliminating their use of pesticides, we will be able to better secure our food supply, improve yields and profits for farms, improve air and water quality and combat climate change. Research also shows that reaching the goals of the Paris climate agreement (regardless of the U.S.’s official position on the accord) will be impossible without finding solutions in the agriculture sector.

This law is a step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done to achieve these goals. A Healthy Soils Consortium managed by the Maryland Department of Agriculture has begun working on this issue, but the state still needs to find a funding stream to provide the incentives for farmers to change their practices. Once the program is fully off the ground, however, Maryland has an opportunity to become a real leader in promoting agricultural practices that benefit the planet as well as farmers and encourage other states and companies to do the same.

So, the next time you think about soil, don’t dismiss it as simply dirt. Instead, remember that an incredible solution to the effects of climate change lies just beneath our feet.

–Kerry Darragh, Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition

What’s going on with transparency?

This post originally appeared on the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition’s Blog on June 30, 2017:  http://www.marylandcleanagriculture.org/whats-going-on-with-transparency-63017/

What’s going on with transparency? (6/30/17)

Transparency and accountability have been priorities of the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition since its inception. As government, industry and communities work together to reduce pollution, we must be able to see what is working – and what isn’t. Data and information is key to that effort.

In 2014, MCAC helped launch Marylanders for Open Government (MDOG), a network of diverse organizations connected by an interest in fair and open access to government-funded data and information. Member groups include Common Cause, ACLU, League of Women Voters and Waterkeepers Chesapeake.

MDOG was a leading driver of the ambitious, bipartisan 2015 update to Maryland’s Public Information Act (PIA), which passed the General Assembly unanimously and was signed by Governor Hogan. That legislation created a PIA ombudsman position in the Maryland Attorney General’s office, established a PIA Compliance Board, clarified exemptions and improved required response times and protocols. The Attorney General’s office has a summary of the legislation here.

The bill also directed the Office of the Attorney General to report to the Governor and General Assembly on a number of issues relating to the implementation of the PIA, with an interim report due at the end of 2016 and a final report due at the end of 2017. Several issues related to agricultural transparency were highlighted in the interim report, released last December.

The report investigated state law exemptions outside the current PIA and specifically highlighted § 8-801.1 of the Agriculture Article, which governs the public availability of nutrient management plans. Nutrient management plans are essentially pollution control plans that identify the appropriate levels of manure and other nutrients—typically nitrogen and phosphorous— that maximize crop yields while minimizing the potential for runoff that can pollute local waterways.

These plans could be useful to determine how much nitrogen and phosphorus are being applied to the land and how that affects the local water quality. But, the plans are largely off limits.

Maryland code provides that the plans should be kept for three years “in a matter that protects the identity of the individual for whom the nutrient management plan was prepared.” Md. Code Ann., Agric. § 8-801.1(b)(2). Unfortunately, this provision has been the subject of seven years of litigation. The environmental community generally seeks a narrow interpretation where the name, address, and unique identification numbers are redacted. The Farm Bureau and other agriculture interests have argued for a broad interpretation where any information that could be used to identify a farm or farmer, such as the size of the farm or the types of crop it grows, should be redacted.

Should these plans be more accessible? A 2015 statewide poll showed that more than three-quarters of respondents supported eliminating the exemption that makes agriculture pollution control plans secret. Seventy-seven percent would support legislation to make agricultural pollution control plans available to the public, including 71 percent of respondents in rural counties.  Marylanders believe this information is important and should be made available to the public.

The interim report identifies the lack of clarity in the current code and suggests a solution is needed: “…we preliminarily find that § 8-801.1 of the Agriculture Article should be amended to specify what identifying information should be withheld when nutrient management plans are provided in response to a PIA request.”

MCAC will be submitting comments on the report recommending actions to address this “loophole” in the PIA. We encourage other organizations who are concerned with transparency and accountability in Maryland’s pollution control efforts to so the same. The Attorney General has a website dedicated to PIA reform, which you can find here. The site includes a link to the interim report and instructions on how to submit comments.

Maryland’s agriculture industry is afforded a level of secrecy that no other industry in our state enjoys, despite being heavily subsidized. Closing this loophole is critical to advancing transparency in the state, as well as to cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay. We’ll continue to watchdog and be a voice for expanding accountability in order to protect our waterways.

-Chris Trumbauer, Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition

The Key To Conservation Is Not What You Think

This post originally appeared on the National Wildlife Federation’s Blog on July 26, 2016: http://blog.nwf.org/2016/07/the-key-to-conservation-is-not-what-you-think/

THE KEY TO CONSERVATION IS NOT WHAT YOU THINK

By: Chante Coleman

The conservation field is chock-full of significant challenges like cleaning up polluted waterways and curtailing air pollution. In the case of the NWF-hosted Choose Clean Water Coalition, for which I serve as Deputy Director, we work to reduce polluted runoff and minimize the impacts of natural gas fracking in the fight to meet the pollution reduction goals for the Chesapeake Bay. With all of these complicated problems, I never anticipated that the most significant and troubling issue is not an environmental issue at all, but a societal one: the lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the Chesapeake Bay environmental community. This issue is critical because our success in returning clean water to the region relies on our ability to understand and effectively work with those from different backgrounds.

There are countless reasons why we must move toward a more diverse community: diversity makes us smarter; it allows us to be open to things that set us apart; and it can help reduce discrimination. Diversity is not only critical to our success as a community, but it is critical to making significant environmental progress.

Why?

First, the conservation community speaks on behalf of the public interest, promoting the “public good,” not private interests. When we do not reflect the communities we serve, we can’t legitimately speak on their behalf. People may question “how can an environmental nonprofit know what is best for me when they do not look like me or share my values and culture?”

Second, this is a numbers game. As the number of diverse individuals increases in the United States, our movement will continue to miss out on a growing segment of the population to engage and activate around our issues. Our field relies on numbers; more people are needed to combat the extraordinary amount of corporate dollars that promote private interests over the public good.

Third, it is our responsibility to ensure the people working in our field are accepted regardless of background and culture. Creating a diverse and inclusive workplace will help us attract diverse individuals. It’s always fun to feel unique and special, but it gets tiring being the only person of color at every meeting and event. I want to see other people like me and I want to be a part of a movement that is not exclusive.

With that said, our end goal is two-fold: (1) the racial make-up of our organizations must reflect that of the communities we serve, and (2) we must engage more diverse communities in a meaningful and impactful way. To accomplish this, our coalition is advocating for a watershed-wide cultural shift in the way we think about institutional racism, unconscious bias, and outright discrimination. We are not going to authentically address our lack of diversity and inclusivity without breaking down these deep-seated, systemic barriers, and gaining a comprehensive understanding of how they impact the space we all live and work in.

The Choose Clean Water Coalition has consulted with experts to learn what we can to address these issues and has made strides toward beginning this shift. We created a tool-kit to help organizations craft governance documents, adjust hiring practices, and shape communications to attract more diversity. The Coalition committed to increasing diversity in our 2016-2017 strategic plan.

We also decided that improving the diversity of our annual conference is a priority. At last year’s conference, we collected our diversity demographics for the first time, and let me tell you, it was not pretty.

At this year’s conference, we made a conscious effort to incorporate diversity into every aspect. We included an environmental justice track, which featured all diverse speakers, and facilitated cultural competence training to help participants build awareness of how cultural differences impact people in an organization.

From last year to this year, we attracted significantly more people of color to our conference. Why? Because we acted intentionally. If we can intentionally improve diversity at our conference, can’t we do this in our larger environmental community? The Coalition has finally experienced some quantitative success in the quest for diversity. We believe this success can be scaled up to a watershed-wide level.

To accomplish this, the Choose Clean Water Coalition, in collaboration with the Chesapeake Bay Funders Network, intends to create a DEI plan for our community. This is a heavy lift, so we released an RFP to find an expert to help build our capacity to address DEI and write our plan. This expert will help us build the capacity of watershed organizations to establish mutual relationships with diverse communities and develop productive cross-sector networks to benefit diverse communities.

It is vital that our community reach a shared vision on DEI with the goal of using these principles in our work. We want to lead the way; and we hope you will follow.

Check out these resources to build your awareness and understanding of equity and the environment:

Equity in Maryland’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Regime

This post originally appeared on Sierra Club’s Blog, Compass: Pointing the way to a clean energy future, on May 11, 2016: http://www.sierraclub.org/compass/2016/05/equity-maryland-s-greenhouse-gas-reduction-regime

Equity in Maryland’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Regime

By Stuart Clarke

iStock_000017682962XLarge (1)

In just over a year Maryland has achieved a number of impressive milestones in its efforts to address the causes and consequences of climate change. Last Spring the General Assembly codified the Climate Change Commission as a permanent stakeholder body charged with advising the Governor and the legislature on climate and clean energy policy and programs. Then in July, the state’s Public Service Commission decided to extend and expand Maryland’s energy efficiency resource standards, which had been set to expire. Come November the Climate Change Commission released its first annual report, calling for an extension and expansion of the state’s greenhouse gas reduction mandate (from 25 percent by the year 2020 to 40 percent by the year 2030) and for a prioritization of equity considerations in our clean energy transition. Then, in the just-ended 2016 General Assembly session, the legislature passed, and the Governor signed, a bill that turned that 40 percent by 2030 recommendation into law. The session also saw passage of a bill to expand the state’s renewable energy mandate from 20 percent by 2022 to 25 percent by 2020.

We are of the view that, taken together, these developments represent the inauguration of a new phase of Maryland’s leadership on climate and clean energy. This new phase – what we might call Maryland’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Regime 2.0 (GGRR 2.0) – is characterized by several important commitments.

With the signature of Governor Hogan and the support of a number of Republicans in both chambers, the passage of the 40 percent by 2030 mandate represents a bipartisan commitment to extend and expand Maryland’s climate change leadership. The legislative record includes a finding by the Maryland Department of the Environment that achieving the 2009 mandate of a 25 percent reduction by 2020 will result in significant net economic benefits to the state. Accordingly, the passage of the new mandate also represents a commitment to the proposition that de-carbonization is a path to future prosperity rather than a threat to future prosperity.

The establishment of a permanent Climate Change Commission represents a commitment to the proposition that climate change leadership in Maryland should be transparent and accountable, and the Climate Commission’s 2015 report represents a commitment to the proposition that a decarbonized prosperity needs to be resilient, and needs to be equitable.

In identifying these commitments as key features of GGRR 2.0, we do not want to suggest that we are overconfident about how fully they will be respected and realized. We are not. Our proposition is that the manner in which our recent progress has occurred – including the language with which it has been framed – creates principles, criteria, aspirations and expectations to which the state can, and should, be held accountable.

These markers of climate and clean energy progress are not, of course, the set of developments that most forcefully marked Maryland’s last year. The year that moved us forward on climate and clean energy action also brought us – in the form of the police custody death of Freddy Gray and the unrest that followed – a sobering reminder of the kinds of progress that our progressive state has yet to achieve. Celebration of our climate and clean energy advances is tempered by the recognition that, absent attention and intention, ‘progress’ will often reproduce and reinforce structures and systems of inequity and injustice. Clean energy advocates ought not permit ourselves to look away from that reality. Instead, we should confront it for what it is, an opportunity to embrace and enact a broader transformative vision, one that seeks not simply create a clean energy future, but one that is fairer and more democratic as well.

In this context we are especially enthusiastic about the GGRR 2.0 commitment to equity. This commitment is made explicit in the Climate Commission’s 2015 report, which calls for Maryland’s 2030 planning to include consideration of the degree to which climate action strategies, policies and programs produce economic benefits that are equitably distributed across Maryland’s population; effectively address the economic dislocations that they may cause; and reduce energy burdens and improve resilience in vulnerable communities.

Until fairly recently Maryland interactions between climate action, energy policy, and equity considerations and constituencies have, as often as not, been tactical, incremental, and discontinuous. Equity advocates have been appropriately focused on the delivery of energy services to low income households and communities, often in the form of bill payment assistance, and energy efficiency upgrades. These advocates have also, on occasion, raised reasonable concerns about the economic impact that clean energy investments will have in increasing electricity rates for low and moderate income households. On the other side, when not ignoring equity considerations, clean energy advocates have too often sought to use them merely for tactical leverage, to gain the support of Baltimore or Prince Georges County legislators.

Our hope is that the GGRR 2.0 commitment to equity can help promote a weaving together of equity and clean energy challenges and constituencies into a new movement focused on making Maryland’s energy system cleaner, fairer, and more democratic. This movement would be built on the growing recognition that strategies to promote clean energy progress can also address and mitigate social and economic inequity if two simple principles are adhered to: we must insure equitable access to the benefits generated by clean energy strategies, policies, and programs; and we must identify and address how the costs of those strategies, policies, and programs can disproportionately burden the poor and the vulnerable.

Equity and clean energy advocates have already been forging mutually convenient alliances to highlight the community health burdens associated with the embrace of lower carbon content ‘bridge’ fuels and technologies like fracked natural gas and waste-to-energy incineration. We are pleased to begin to see these alliances ramifying, as advocates begin to find common cause in strategies and policies that drive us towards an equitably prosperous clean energy future. These include policies to insure that low income households and communities of color are able to access the economic and health benefits associated with living in more energy efficient dwellings powered by renewable energy; the job creation benefits associated with increased investment in renewable energy generation; and the security and stability benefits associated with increased energy resilience from expanded micro grids and distributed generation.

We are especially pleased that a piece of Town Creek-funded work may help to facilitate and inform these new relationships and ambitions in Maryland. “Planning for Climate and Energy Equity in Maryland” is a comprehensive review of the environmental justice and energy equity challenges and opportunities embedded in the Maryland Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan. This report – commissioned by the Maryland Environmental Health Network and conducted by Skeo Solutions Consulting – provides a precise review of the justice and equity aspects of Maryland’s existing Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan, while also emphasizing the need for the plan’s programmatic interventions to take place in the context of inclusive and adaptive planning for equitable outcomes. Since policies and programs that are neutral on their face can have inequitable impacts when implemented across our state’s particular geography of vulnerability, the report also emphasizes the importance of developing and implementing tools, techniques and practices that will allow for the precise locating of equity challenges and opportunities.

To be sure, Baltimore and Maryland are no different than other cities and states in preserving and extending legacies of inequity and injustice. We are simply in a moment when it is especially difficult to pretend otherwise. Since it would be unwise to expect that this moment will last, we ought to strive to use it wisely and productively. Fortunately, opportunities to reduce carbon pollution while also redressing energy and environmental inequities abound.

As the state’s representatives on the RGGI Board consider if and how to continue and expand RGGI’s progress in reducing regional greenhouse gas emissions, we hope that they will embrace the opportunity to include the views and perspectives of the low income constituents that directly benefit from the auction revenues generated by the carbon cap.

As the Public Service Commission explores how our electric grid can be made more resilient and more supportive of clean energy, we hope that they will embrace the opportunity to consider – along with the state’s low income and vulnerable constituents – how it can be made fairer as well.

As the Maryland Climate Change Commission develops its 2016 Annual report, we hope that it will embrace the opportunity to make good on its 2015 commitment to emphasize equity considerations, and generate robust recommendations for how Maryland can better track and plan for the distribution of the benefits and burdens of climate policy and planning.

Transaction to Transformation

This post originally appeared on the Association for Baltimore Area Grantmaker’s Blog, Adventures in Philanthropy, on June 19, 2015: https://www.towncreekfdn.org//ht.ly/Ox6yH

Transaction to Transformation

By Stuart Clarke, ABAG Board Member and Executive Director, Town Creek Foundation

I was recently invited to speak at the Annual Meeting of the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers about the work we are doing at the Town Creek Foundation and how it illustrates one of the goals’ of the Association’s newly presented strategic plan.

ABAG’s mission is to maximize the impact of philanthropic giving on community life through a growing network of diverse, informed and effective philanthropists. As an ABAG Board Member, I was happy to speak about the foundation and about the strategic plan that I helped develop, which acknowledges the long standing roles of our Association as a convener and leader for collective and transformative action and how we will seek to elevate that role, maximizing our unique ability to convene a broad range of stakeholders, to be a voice, to lead public discourse and to influence governance and policy affecting the issues and communities we serve.

The new plan highlights four main goals, and I helped illustrate Goal #1:

“The Association will lead, with and for its members, efforts to influence critical issues and improve community conditions.” I discussed transaction to transformation and how the Town Creek Foundation thinks about our work and our collaboration with other members to encourage more systemic change.

Here are my remarks:

“It’s fun to be up here talking to you this morning, at least partly because – for at least two reasons – it’s sort of an odd place for me to be. First, Town Creek is a thirty-four year old environmental advocacy funder that, until pretty recently, has had a pretty low profile in Baltimore. Our more significant distinguishing characteristic, however, is that we are sun-setting. We are in the middle of the fourth year of a ten-year spend down. We plan to make our last grants, throw a big party, and bounce the caterer’s check at the end of 2021.

I’m here to tell you that self-imposed mortality can have an urgently clarifying influence on institutional thinking. Our decision to sunset was made in 2011, after a period of significant environmental progress in Maryland on issues of primary concern to us. This was a period that culminated in the establishment of relatively ambitious goals, strategies and plans to reduce the state’s contributions to Bay pollution and global warming.

Rather than basking in that glow, however, our decision to sunset prompted us to confront three questions about our work and our partnerships:

  • Is the scale and pace of change that we were seeing sufficient in view of the political, economic, and ecological headwinds that appear to be on the way?
  • Are the strategies that are producing incremental pollution reductions also building sufficient political power to sustain and accelerate those reduction sunder change political and economic circumstances?
  • Can we sustainably address Maryland’s major pollution challenges by reforming the practices that generate that pollution but leaving unchanged the purpose, logic, and structural relationships of the systems in which those practices are embedded?

It probably won’t surprise you that we emerged from this confrontation convinced that the answers to these questions are probably no. That we probably haven’t done enough of the right things to earn the self-satisfied retirement we’d been planning.

So we jumped into our last decade intent on encouraging our partners to augment their transactional strategies focused on incremental change with transformational strategies focused on systemic change.

  • We think we know what that means, but we know that we don’t know precisely how it works. We do think that five things are probably critical. The first three have to do with our grantmaking:
  • We think we need to invest in vision – in work that produces narratives of fundamentally different futures for the state and the region;
  • We think we need to invest in leadership – especially leadership with an appetite for boldness; and
  • We think we need to invest in examples, in pilot projects – real live pieces of the future that we need to build.

The last two things are about where we invest our time and our commitment, rather than where we invest our funds.

We need to be present with folks that are struggling with our toughest problems – not just environmental problems, but the full panoply of social and economic problems that we need to overcome. And, we need to engage that struggle in the state’s center of gravity, here, in Baltimore, where the challenges and the opportunities present themselves in the rawest and ripest forms.

So that’s why we are showing up at ABAG, and that’s why I am standing up for this strategic plan.”

Citizen Enforcement: Preventing Sediment Pollution One Construction Site at a Time

This post originally appeared on the Center for Progressive Reform’s Blog on July 15, 2014: https://www.towncreekfdn.org//www.progressivereform.org/CPRBlog.cfm?idBlog=3A431B61-9E6E-DA18-17184C8108DA344D

 

I will never look at a construction site the same way again.

Certain types of pollution—mostly sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorus—run into the Chesapeake Bay and fuel algal blooms, creating dead zones where crabs, oysters and other Bay life cannot survive. Indeed, the Chesapeake is on track to have an above-average dead zone this year.

Construction sites are a major source of sediment runoff. When mud washes from a single construction site, it can damage three miles of downstream waters. Recovery can take up to a century. Maryland has rules that construction companies are supposed to follow to minimize runoff. These rules pay off: For every dollar spent keeping mud onsite, taxpayers save $100 or more in damages avoided.

That’s why I spent last Wednesday driving around Baltimore with four others checking to see whether constructions sites were following the rules.

I learned that the most effective measure to prevent runoff is to quickly get disturbed soil under a dense blanket of straw mulch, then grass. Other measures, like the black fences you see at most construction sites, can’t keep enough mud on the site to prevent pollution. Simply put, exposed soil equals pollution. Whenever you see exposed soil on a construction site, pollution will occur come the next rain.

Under Maryland law, to begin work at a construction site, a contractor must first clear only a narrow strip alongUntitled the downslope edge of the site’s perimeter. Within this swath, the contractor installs a fence to capture runoff and deliver it to traps also built within the perimeter swath. These fences and ponds, however, trap less than half the mud. Once fences are installed, the perimeter must then be mulched and seeded within three days [COMAR 26.17.10.07B(f)(i)]. If the mulch blows away, the contractor must re-mulch. If the grass doesn’t reach 95 percent coverage within eight weeks, the contractor must reseed.

Once the perimeter is stabilized, the contractor can start work on the interior of the site. The company uses bulldozers to level the ground so construction can begin. Once the ground is level, known as “rough grade,” the contractor has up to seven days to stabilize all exposed soils. Paved areas are considered stabilized; all other “erodible” (i.e., non-paved) areas must be mulched and seeded.

The only way to determine that contractors are properly stabilizing construction sites is to go out and take a look. Government agencies, in this case the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), are tasked with inspecting sites like these, but MDE has gradually lost funding and staff while its responsibilities have increased dramatically. When writing environmental laws, Congress envisioned a strong role for citizens—Congress placed citizen suit provisions in virtually all of the federal environmental statutes, for example, enabling citizens to “stand in the shoes” of regulatory authorities and bring suit to enforce the law. Citizen enforcement is vital when bureaucracies stumble or polluters skirt the law.

The tour of construction sites I took last week is true citizen enforcement. Our knowledgeable guide, Richard Klein who leads Community & Environmental Defense Services, made the process easy by preparing a simple questionnaire for us to fill out. We visited 11 sites over the course of three hours. The result? About two of the 11 were even remotely stable. Not an unusual result, according to Richard who has tracked this problem for years.

In addition to Baltimore City, Richard is leading tours of Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford, and Howard counties. With the help of volunteers, he’ll compile data on hundreds of construction sites across Maryland. He encourages the volunteers to write thank-you letters to construction companies that are following the rules and letters encouraging companies without proper stabilization to do better.

Richard’s overall goal is to provide the public support needed to bring all jurisdictions up to the point of full compliance with the stabilization law. After surveying the counties, he’ll send the data he and the volunteers compile to the MDE. By showing MDE that citizens strongly support the agency’s efforts to inspect construction sites and take enforcement actions when necessary, he aims to channel this public support into getting enforcement agencies the resources and political backing needed to maximize compliance.

You can learn more about the tours and report a violation through Richard’s website. Another great way to track pollution is through the just-released Water Reporter app, a crowd sourced, interactive app that allows citizens to share information and flag pollution problems in their communities.

Anne Havemann, Policy Analyst, Center for Progressive Reform

 

Anne_HavemannAnne Havemann, J.D., is a CPR Policy Analyst. She joined the organization in 2013 to work on its Chesapeake Bay program area.

Havemann has nearly a decade of experience working on environmental issues at the regional and national scale. From 2005 to 2010, she was the communications director for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, a nonprofit organization working on clean energy issues in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. She focused on the Clean Water Act during clerkships with U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) and at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Her article on debarring BP in the wake of the 2010 oil spill, co-authored with CPR president Rena Steinzor, appears in the William & Mary Environmental Law and Policy Review. Her second article, which won the Joseph Bernstein prize and was published in the Maryland Law Review, considers whether Maryland’s renewable energy laws violate the dormant Commerce Clause.

Ms. Havemann received a B.A. in environmental science from Colorado College in 2004. She received her law degree with a certificate in environmental law from the University of Maryland Carey School of Law in 2013, where she graduated magna cum laude. While at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law, she was editor in chief of the Maryland Law Review. In that position, she hosted a symposium in conjunction with CPR that brought together scholars from the environmental and financial fields to discuss regulatory enforcement. She is a member of Order of the Coif and a recipient of the Alumni Association Award for contributing most largely to the law school through her character and leadership.

Contact Information:
202.747.0698

Email: ahavemann@progressivereform.org

Spring 2014 Grant Awards

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.

Chesapeake Bay

American Rivers
Earthjustice
National Wildlife Federation
Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
Chesapeake Bay Funders Network
Potomac Conservancy
Friends of Frederick County
Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy
Sassafras River Association
Center for Progressive Reform
HOPE Impacts
Food & Water Watch
Waterkeepers Chesapeake
Assateague Coastal Trust
Maryland Environmental Health Network
National Caucus of Environmental Legislators

Climate Change

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

Sustainability

Bay Journal
Maryland Non-Profits
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
Civic Works
Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Corporation

If you have any questions please contact our Program Assistant, Megan Milliken. Email: mmilliken@towncreekfdn.org Office: 410-763-8171

We Need A Surgeon General’s Report For Fracked Gas Exports At Cove Point

This post originally appeared on Health and Environmental Funders Network Blog, Giving InSight, on [April 15, 2014]:https://www.towncreekfdn.org//hefn.org/connect/blog/we_need_surgeon_generals_report_fracked_gas_exports_cove_point

 

ccan_cove_point_1This post was authored by Katie Huffling, program director for the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, Joelle Novey, director of Interfaith Power and Light (DC, MD, NoVA), and Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. Megan Milliken from the Town Creek Foundation shares this introduction:

Maryland, which loses 1.6 acres of state land each day from sea level rise, is uniquely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.  The Town Creek Foundation is committed to helping Maryland exceed its goals of reducing pollution of the Chesapeake Bay and its greenhouse gas emissions, including through transition to clean energy alternatives.  Dominion Resources’ Cove Point plan to convert a liquid natural gas (LNG) import facility on the Eastern shore of Maryland into a major natural gas export facility will reinforce our dependence of fossil fuels with a facility that will only exacerbate the problem. 

The fight against Cove Point is not a matter of one facility, but of Maryland’s clean energy future.  Dominion has green-washed their communications, arguing that this is a great solution for Maryland, but it is simply a profitable opportunity for Dominion.  If the public fully understands the implications of this facility, it would not stand a chance.  As the following post outlines, Stop Cove Point advocates, including Town Creek grantees Interfaith Power and Light and Chesapeake Climate Action Network, are galvanizing public support in opposition to the facility, while supporting a reinvestment in clean energy.  We believe that Cove Point presents a dramatic example of wrong choices for Maryland’s energy future and, as such, provides a platform on which to promote an alternative vision.

 

Fifty years ago, the U.S. Surgeon General’s report on cigarettes and lung cancerchanged America forever. Before the report, Americans generally assumed smoking was okay – maybe even good for us given ads like, “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette!” But then the hard evidence – the undeniable facts – came to the surface and public opinion shifted.

That’s the good news. The bad news for Maryland is that there’s a new “Camel cigarette” problem. For the past several months, a powerful corporation called Dominion Resources has been telling Marylanders that we can light something else on fire – something called “fracked gas” – and that it will be good for public healthand the environment. Dominion wants to build a massive industrial plant at a place called Cove Point in southern Maryland to systematically collect, process, liquefy, and export to faraway Asia a huge quantity of gas taken from hydraulic fracturing drilling sites all across the region.

To understand the full-blown public health emergency that could result from this, remember this number: 19. Nineteen out of Maryland’s 23 counties have recently been mapped and found to have gas basins below their surface. Every one of those 19 counties could get fracked – with attendant problems ranging from flammable tap water to deforestation – thanks directly or indirectly to Dominion’s Cove Point plan.

Here are the facts. Wherever fracking occurs, wherever you drill down a mile deep and set off explosions to free up natural gas, problems occur. Again, these range from thedocumented contamination of drinking water near drilling sites to the triggering of earthquakes from the reinjection of the drilling water into the ground. Further health risks include toxic and hormone-disrupting chemicals released into surface and ground waters.

Dominion’s plan is to pipe the fracked gas from as far away as New York and – potentially – from all across Maryland to Cove Point on the shore of the Chesapeake Bay in Calvert County. There, with the aid of a large new power plant, the gas would be liquefied to 260 degrees below zero. The liquefaction process itself would combust so much gas and use so much propane that it could generate more global warming pollution than four of Maryland’s biggest coal-fired power plants. And Dominion still calls this “clean energy.”

Image source: Emma Hohenstein, Chesapeake Climate Action Network

 

The gas would then be poured onto massive vessels and shipped to India and Japan to be re-vaporized and piped again to be finally burned for energy. Using data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Dominion, our analysis is that the “life-cycle” emissions from this process make liquefied and exported fracked gas almost certainly as bad for the global atmosphere as burning coal!

And yet the U.S. Department of Energy has given preliminary approval to seven gas export facilities in Oregon, Texas, Louisiana, and at Cove Point in Maryland. More than a dozen others have been proposed by the gas industry. If all of them were built, it would create the greenhouse gas equivalent of adding 100 coal-fired power plants to U.S. emissions. It would, in short, make a mockery of the White House “climate action plan” proposed by the President last summer.

Understandably, this is hard for many people to believe.  Not unlike Big Tobacco in the 1950s, the gas industry has bombarded the public with TV and print ads heralding the appeal and safe-use benefits of gas. But the facts – as with tobacco – are the facts. In early February, a major panel of scientists declared that U.S. cities that switch their bus fleets over to fracked gas are not reducing their greenhouse pollution below conventional fleets. No climate change benefits at all.

It turns out Dominion doesn’t think the federal government should conduct a comprehensive environmental statement for its $3.8 billion, highly polluting, region-transforming project. And so far the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has agreed to forgo such a study.

Why does Dominion oppose an EIS? One can only assume it’s because the company fears an EIS would be the equivalent of a Surgeon General’s report. Among other things, an EIS would show that residents in southern Maryland can expect worsening asthma rates as their air quality deteriorates from the constant flaring and liquefying of gas.

Maryland needs and deserves a Surgeon General’s report on Cove Point, covering the whole scheme of drilling for fracked gas and exporting it through the state.

Guest Blog: Fossil Fuel Company Divestment & Renewable Energy Reinvestment

Fossil Fuel Company Divestment & Renewable Energy Reinvestment

Fran Teplitz, Policy Director, Green America

The fossil fuel divestment movement continues to grow nationally and internationally as individuals and institutions — including pension funds, institutions of higher learning, and philanthropic endowments –recognize the importance of ridding their portfolios of fossil fuel companies. As we see time again, whether the issue is divestment from apartheid South Africa, divestment from the Sudan, or divestment from tobacco, when investors add the the power of their voice and their assets to social movements, the pace of change can accelerate.

Divestment intensifies public, media, and policy-maker attention to issues and signals that the stakes of inaction are unacceptable. This is certainly true for the climate crisis, in which the threats to human and environmental health continue to mount – especially for populations and ecosystems with no defense.

The fossil fuel company divestment movement, sparked by 350.org, urges investors to divest their portfolios of the top 200 fossil fuel companies. As extreme weather events become more common and the level of carbon pollution continues to rise – exceeding in some areas the 350 parts per million deemed the safest upper limit – all sectors of society need to take  action to shift global energy use toward renewable energy and energy efficiency. As 2014 opened, a coalition of foundations, with aggregated assets of $1.8 billion, announced their fossil fuel company divestment plans, giving an important boost to the divestment movement. At the same time, we see the continued development of fossil fuel company-free investment products including progress toward the first fossil free indexes that will help individuals create low carbon portfolios.

More and more investors understand that divestment is the right thing to do from the perspective of planetary well-being – as well as from a fiduciary perspective. Financial analysts are realizing that fossil fuel companies are over-valued and pose increasing risk to investors. We are now at the point where we cannot burn the reserves that fossil fuel companies already have without exceeding the two degree Celsius rise in temperature, over preindustrial levels, that scientists globally agree we must remain under for planetary health. At current carbon dioxide emission rates, we are likely to exceed this threshold.

Green America’s new Guide to Fossil Fuel Divestment and Clean Energy Reinvesting can help individuals, in our roles as investors and consumers, to create the clean energy economy upon which the future depends.

The Guide provides resources to help individuals get started in aligning their investments with their commitment to addressing climate change. Key steps include:

1. Divest Your Fossil-Fuel-Company Holdings

If you own direct company stock, sell any investments in the top 200 companies holding the most fossil-fuel reserves. If you only own mutual funds, call your mutual fund companies and urge them to offer fossil-free options. If they can’t, or won’t, tell them you’ll be shifting more of your mutual fund investing to mutual fund companies that offer fossil fuel company -free funds. Develop a divestment plan so you can meet your financial needs without adding to global change.

2. Reinvest in Clean Energy and Fossil-Free Products

Buy fossil-free stocks in consultation with your financial planner, invest in fossil-free mutual funds and ETFs, or invest in crowd-sourced solar projects.

3. Invest in Clean Energy for Your Home and Community

Boost your home’s value by installing clean energy, or look into community solar opportunities, on the rise nationwide. There are shared renewable energy options for people who rent and a number of utilities themselves that offer clean energy, as well as resellers like PEAR and Ethical Electric that actively work to build more clean energy sources.

4. Shift Your Bank Accounts and Credit Cards

Don’t do business with conventional mega-banks heavily invested in fossil fuels. Move your checking and savings accounts and credit cards to community development banks. Find resources at www.breakupwithyourmegabank.org  and www.takechargeofyourcard.org.

5. Support Institutional Divestment Movements

Work with your city, house of worship, university, or other groups that may be invested in fossil fuels. Find ongoing campaigns at www.gofossilfree.org.

Each of us has a responsibility to take as many actions as we can to reverse global warming. If enough of us – citizens, policy makers, businesses, investors, and scientists –take action, we can build a clean energy economy that will serve us for generations to come.

 

FranFran serves as the Director of Social Investing & Policy at Green America. Green America is a nonprofit membership based organization in Washington, DC that involves consumers, businesses and investors in economic strategies to advance positive social and environmental change. Fran joined the organization in 2000 and manages Green America’s role in various coalitions related to sustainable business and economics, climate change, and other policy issues. She also directs Green America’s work on socially and environmentally responsible investing.

Fran worked with Peace Action and the Peace Action Education Fund for seven years before joining Green America. Prior to Peace Action, she worked on U.S. policy toward Central America.  She holds a Master’s Degree from the Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame and earned her undergraduate degree from Washington University in St. Louis in Political Science.