I’ve said before most legislators in the Maryland General Assembly aren’t willing to do even close to what is necessary to restore the Chesapeake Bay. Unfortunately, the showdown over storm-water regulations has proven this to be true once again. In 2007 the General Assembly passed the Storm-water Management Act, which set storm-water standards for the Maryland Department of Environment to implement. The showdown over what that implementation would look like happened this session. There was the threat of legislation to roll back the standards, and some environmental groups and lawmakers forged compromise legislation with the developers for many of their redevelopment projects to be grandfathered in, and sheltered from the new regulations for quite some time.
Link: “The measure sets statewide stormwater standards that redevelopment projects must meet to reduce run off. The bill was born out of a need to deal with a new set of state rules defining the way water could run off new or re-developed properties. Developers had objected to the rules, saying they were so restrictive they would stop growth–or re-direct it into undeveloped areas, away from “smart growth” sites near urban cores. Developers had hired some of the biggest lobbying firms in the capital to stop the measure.”
But some environmental groups weren’t happy with this move…
“More than 30 Maryland environmentalists–including a former governor, a former U.S. senator and a former congressman–held a press conference today in Annapolis to denounce efforts to revise rules on pollution flowing to the Chesapeake Bay through storm sewers. The event, led by former U.S. Senator Joseph Tydings (D-Md.), was another sign of a fracturing in Maryland’s green community over an arcane area of environmental law.”
“Under that deal, some un-finished projects could be “grandfathered” in, built under the old stormwater rules, if they received the right kind of permission. Also, some projects could face looser restrictions in “in-fill” developments.
At today’s press conference, activists said that was giving developers too long a leash.
“The compromise was not a good deal,” said former Maryland state Senator Gerald W. Winegrad (D). “This is an environmental outrage. Let’s stop it now.” Also speaking were former Gov. Harry Hughes (D) and former U.S. Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest (R).
Afterward, Dottie Yunger–whose title is Anacostia Riverkeeper–said that these groups had come together to disprove the notion that the two organizations in those meetings had achieved the best deal possible for the environment.
“No, you didn’t,” she said. “You negotiated the best deal you thought you could get, and you didn’t represent the rest of the environmental community.”
In the end, the bill passed the House of Delegates by a wide margin. Below my take is a good article by Hometown Glenburnie writer Pamela Wood, which presents the points of view and explains what’s next.
My take on this is that politicians in Maryland need to be forced to start taking tough votes on the Bay. I sometimes favor the “incrementalist” strategy being taken by the environmental groups that brokered the compromise, but in this case, in an election year, we should be pushing the envelope. These new rules are so weak I’d hardly call them progress. Get politicians on the record siding with big developers, and hammer them this fall for it. By forging a compromise, we gave the General Assembly lawmakers such an easy vote, now they can all look good for voting on” storm-water regulations” and “protecting jobs”. If we truly want to make progress on the Bay, we need to keep our friends in office and throw the bums out. This vote blurs the line between the two.
Stormwater pollution has been the biggest environmental issue facing the state this year, with lawmakers, lobbyists and activists dividing themselves into camps according to how stringent they think the new rules should be.
And now environmental activists are divided, too.
More than 30 riverkeepers and other activists lined up in the State House in Annapolis Wednesday for a news conference to call on lawmakers to summon the political courage to ensure that stricter stormwater-pollution controls on new development are implemented as planned.
They had three Maryland political legends on their side: former governor Harry Hughes, former congressman Wayne Gilchrest and former U.S. senator Joe Tydings.
Notably absent from the news conference were the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and other environmental groups that are sticking by a compromise, hammered out in recent weeks, that weakens the new rules.
“All it takes is for the people in this building who hold the reins of power not to give up that power,” Gilchrest said, encouraging lawmakers not to cave in and accept the compromise.
Gilchrest said lawmakers should “hold onto the reins of power and do the right thing,” which earned a standing ovation from the activists gathered at the event.
Polluted stormwater runoff is a vexing problem for those trying to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.
When it rains, the water rushes along rooftops,parking lots, driveways and highways. It picks up nutrients, sediment, chemicals and trash as it rushes into streams and creeks that feed the bay.
Polluted stormwater from urban and suburban areas is the only source of bay pollution that is increasing.
Bay advocates said putting state-of-the-art stormwater controls on new construction sites is important because it will mean less pollution from developed areas for their entire lifetime. And it can prevent the need for expensive restoration projects.
The current effort to clamp down on polluted stormwater runoff goes back to 2007. That year, Maryland lawmakers passed a bill requiring new construction projects to have stepped-up pollution controls. Ideally, the flow of water from new development should mimic the flow before construction, the bill said.
Building industry and local government groups eventually came on board.
The Maryland Department of the Environment then spent the next few years writing detailed requirements for construction projects. The new rules were set to go into effect May 4, but builders and local government balked.
They said the requirements were onerous and expensive, especially for redevelopment projects in cities, where there are space constraints.
They found sympathy in lawmakers, who introduced bills to weaken the new requirements.
But those bills all were put on hold while a compromise was hashed out between the parties involved. A key feature of the compromise was exempting more projects “in the pipeline” from the rules through an expanded grandfathering provision.
Environmentalists weren’t thrilled, but some groups – including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Maryland League of Conservation Voters and 1000 Friends of Maryland – accepted the deal.
But the compromise didn’t impress one key lawmaker. The reworked requirements would have to gain approval from a joint House-Senate committee that reviews administrative regulations.
The chairman, Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, a staunch environmentalist, said he wouldn’t let the rules pass.
So now environmentalists, builders, local government officials and state lawmakers are back to square one on the stormwater fight.
But this time, environmentalists are split.
One faction of environmental groups is pushing for a result that looks like the compromise. The other faction – the 30-plus gathered this week – is pushing for the original rules to stand.
Kim Coble, Maryland executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, acknowledged that the compromise on the stormwater rules was not ideal. But she said it’s better than sending a bill through the General Assembly that could end up with even weaker rules.
“The compromise language in the bill reflects just that, a compromise,” Coble said in a prepared statement. “There are some areas in which the environmental agenda was strengthened, and some in which we slid back.”
In Maryland politics, environmental groups often are faced with the choice of sticking to their guns or bending somewhat in order to get a new policy passed, rather than see it not pass at all.
In this case, Coble said, the better choice was to bend.
“A public relations victory is not worth the gamble if stormwater controls in Maryland are further weakened,” she said.