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In a recession, it's not easy being green

Trying fiscal conditions have environmental advocates approaching the 2011 legislative session with scaled-back expectations they say are essential to meeting federal Chesapeake Bay cleanup requirements and securing Maryland's energy future.

Bay cleanup, stormwater management, wind power top the list

ANNAPOLIS - Trying fiscal conditions have environmental advocates approaching the 2011 legislative session with scaled-back expectations they say are essential to meeting federal Chesapeake Bay cleanup requirements and securing Maryland's energy future.

As Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and top lawmakers warn that the state's projected $1.6 billion shortfall will force unpleasant choices, environmental groups are hoping to protect programs that already have sustained budget cuts or seen revenues diverted to other areas.

"We recognize that there are a lot of hard decisions that have to be made," said Jen Brock-Cancellieri, deputy director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters. "What we're highlighting to legislators is how you can have a healthy economy and a healthy environment. We don't think they have to choose - and they showed last session, that you don't have to choose between the economy and the environment. You can do both."

Funding priorities aside, advocates see opportunities for progress down the line that would cost little or nothing in the short term.

They include a controversial proposal requiring county... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Bay cleanup, stormwater management, wind power top the list

ANNAPOLIS - Trying fiscal conditions have environmental advocates approaching the 2011 legislative session with scaled-back expectations they say are essential to meeting federal Chesapeake Bay cleanup requirements and securing Maryland's energy future.

As Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and top lawmakers warn that the state's projected $1.6 billion shortfall will force unpleasant choices, environmental groups are hoping to protect programs that already have sustained budget cuts or seen revenues diverted to other areas.

"We recognize that there are a lot of hard decisions that have to be made," said Jen Brock-Cancellieri, deputy director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters. "What we're highlighting to legislators is how you can have a healthy economy and a healthy environment. We don't think they have to choose - and they showed last session, that you don't have to choose between the economy and the environment. You can do both."

Funding priorities aside, advocates see opportunities for progress down the line that would cost little or nothing in the short term.

They include a controversial proposal requiring county governments to establish a fee on impervious surfaces aimed at reducing stormwater runoff, which failed to gain support in this year's session. Currently, only Montgomery County and several municipalities impose such a fee.

Although better stormwater management is much needed, Del. Stephen W. Lafferty believes it will be tough to sell lawmakers that government should implement a new fee in the midst of a fragile economic recovery.

Any new initiatives should be secondary to protecting ongoing programs and agency budgets that are needed to enforce existing laws and maintain current environmental endeavors, he said.

"We're not going to be able to enforce the environmental laws that we worked so hard to put in place if we don't have the personnel to follow through," said Lafferty (D-Dist. 42) of Stoneleigh. "Every budget item is going to be turned upside down and backwards."

Offshore wind will be another hot topic this year, as supporters are pushing legislation that would require the Public Service Commission to direct public utility companies to negotiate long-term contracts for wind energy.

"We need to move on from [getting our] energy from the ground to [getting our] energy from the sky," said Tom Carlson, Maryland campaign director for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, at a legislative preview on environmental issues last week at Goucher College.

O'Malley recently appeared with federal Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in Baltimore in support of a new wind energy program aimed at accelerating the siting, leasing, permitting and construction of projects along the Atlantic seaboard.

Last month, federal officials signed off on a Maryland task force's plan to explore offshore wind opportunities along the coastline. Massachusetts is the only other state to have received the federal government's blessing.

Lawmakers also need to be mindful of the state's recently submitted "pollution diet," which aims to achieve Chesapeake Bay cleanup goals five years earlier than federally mandated.

"Maryland has done a pretty good job of laying out what needs to be done," said Kim Coble, Maryland executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "We feel there are a couple important steps that need to be put in play."

Her group has five priorities over the next four years to help meet those goals: establishing local stormwater management fees; increasing the depleted Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund to ensure all 69 major sewage treatment plants in Maryland are upgraded; limiting the use of septic systems in larger subdivisions; mandating the use of cover crops on high-risk farmland; and requiring forested buffers along streams to stem runoff.

The state's watershed implementation plan seeks to reduce nitrogen by 21 percent, phosphorus by 18 percent and sediment by 12 percent, all by 2020, five years before the Environmental Protection Agency's deadline. It also has set biennial benchmarks to measure progress.

States that fail to meet pollution reduction goals will be subject to financial penalties from the EPA.

"For decades, there's been too much pollution going into the Bay, and the result is every summer we have dead zones, sometimes spanning to up to one-third of the Bay, where nothing can live," said Tommy Landers, a policy advocate for Environment Maryland.

His organization also wants to keep Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative revenues intended for energy efficiency and weatherization projects from being diverted to help low-income Marylanders pay their utility bills, which has happened for several years. With federal stimulus programs for weatherization about to expire, it's especially important to set aside RGGI money for its intended use, Landers said.

Other groups are focused on maintaining funding for Program Open Space, which was completely financed using general obligation bonds in the current year's budget. However, advocates are concerned that Maryland is nearing its debt capacity and may not be able to dedicate as much to conserving land as it has previously.

There's a direct public health and economic benefit to restricting development because it reduces the need for costly public services, said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, deputy director of 1000 Friends of Maryland, which advocates for smart growth.

At a legislative breakfast Monday, House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve identified Program Open Space as one of many areas of the budget that legislators will heavily scrutinize.

"As popular as it is, that will be one of the less controversial things if we start cutting it," said Barve (D-Dist. 17) of Gaithersburg.

Meeting with reporters after Wednesday's Board of Revenue Estimates meeting, O'Malley singled out Program Open Space as a budget priority.

"In this time of economic contraction, those dollars in open space actually go a lot further and preserve more open space than they would in a time when real estate prices were fast-rising," he said.

Meanwhile, lawmakers expect a big push for legislation that would establish a framework for offshore wind farms to be installed near Ocean City. Although it likely would be years before any turbines are constructed, supporters say it's important for the state to take steps now that will attract wind farm developers to Maryland's coastal waters.

"We have to break our ties from energy coming from coal-fired power plants," said Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Dist. 22) of University Park. "It's polluting, it's creating greenhouse gases, and it's expensive."

The Montgomery County Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution encouraging the General Assembly to pass legislation requiring state regulators to direct public utilities to enter into long-term purchasing agreements for wind power.

The emission-free turbines could supply up to one-third of the electricity needed by mid-Atlantic states, Councilman George L. Leventhal (D-At Large) of Takoma Park said in a news release. Montgomery County currently purchases about one-quarter of its energy from wind generation.


Source: http://www.gazette.net/stor...

DEC 17 2010
https://www.windaction.org/posts/29343-in-a-recession-it-s-not-easy-being-green
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