THE LATEST FROM THE MARYLAND DEPARTMENT OF THE ENVIRONMENT
Building on a Green 2016
On the environmental front, there’s a lot to cheer about in the year that just ended. Here are some of the initiatives and accomplishments in 2016 – and some thoughts on what to expect in 2017.
Clean Water and the Chesapeake Bay
Maryland continued to make steady progress for water quality and environmental health in our beloved Bay watershed. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation gave the State of the Bay a “C-minus” grade, its highest since the foundation began grading the bay 18 years ago. The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science gave the health of the bay a “C” grade. While we’re not proud of a “C” grade, we are all encouraged by the clear trend of improvement.
Stormwater solutions continue to take shape. Maryland’s largest jurisdictions met their requirements under state law to develop financing plans to reduce polluted stormwater runoff and protect and restore local waters and the Bay. The total projected investment for stormwater reduction projects for Maryland’s largest jurisdictions is more than $1 billion over five years. The state continues to invest in green infrastructure and cost-effective solutions to help communities. In December, we proposed municipal stormwater permits for smaller jurisdictions to help prevent pollution and protect Maryland’s precious streams, watersheds and the Chesapeake Bay.
Curtailing sewage overflows is another priority. The Department of the Environment and its federal partners reached agreement with Baltimore City on a proposed modification to a 2002 Consent Decree to greatly reduce the amount of sewage that overflows in the City and set deadlines for completion of an estimated $2 billion in work by the City to improve its sewer system. In a first-of-its kind grant, our department provided $20 million from the Bay Restoration Fund to the City for sewer repairs. We are working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Justice and the City to finalize the Consent Decree modification, including improvements based on additional public meetings and citizen-led requests.
Monie Bay and the Wicomico River.
(Photo – Ben Fertig, IAN UMCES)
Maryland took steps to improve projects to conserve and restore wetlands, which are workhorses for protecting the Bay and increasing the quality of our lives throughout the state. Governor Hogan signed a measure to increase the use of wetlands mitigations banks, which are restoration, enhancement or conservation areas professionally managed and monitored to help the State meet its “no net loss” of wetlands goal. In December, the EPA announced it has awarded more than half a million dollars to Maryland for a project creating a web-based system for wetland permit applications to help protect these valuable resources.
In an example of smart and balanced regulatory reform, we finalized a regulation to allow installation of conventional septic systems outside of the Critical Area while still requiring pollution-removing technology on new systems in the Critical Area. This is a measured step to reduce regulatory burden while still insisting on excellent environmental results. We are also committed to increased oversight of septic systems, mandatory pump outs, and technical and financial assistance for local officials choosing septic systems or sewer hookups.
Governor Hogan is leading the effort to seek innovative and cost-effective solutions at the Conowingo Dam to reduce sediment and nutrient pollution from states upstream, which flows down the Susquehanna River and poses a serious threat to the long-term health of the Bay. Last summer, Governor Hogan held the first Conowingo Dam Summit and announced the formation of a multi-agency workgroup to seek innovative solutions for reducing pollution that threatens the Chesapeake Bay. The state continues to make progress on potential projects to remove sediment and apply it to beneficial uses.
And the Clean Water Commerce Act, announced by Governor Hogan just after the New Year as part of his legislative agenda, will allow up to $10 million of the Bay Restoration Fund to be used to purchase nutrient reduction credits, enabling the state to meet its Chesapeake Bay Watershed Improvement Plan goals by 2025. Our department, working with the Maryland Department of Agriculture and an advisory commission made up of a broad range of stakeholders, has been working on guidance and trading regulations that are expected to be proposed this year. The Clean Water Commerce Act will allow us to use bay cleanup money to help jump start this crucial program.
Maryland continues to show significant improvements in air quality. With reductions in emissions from utilities, motor vehicles and other sources as diverse as manufacturing and consumer products, Maryland is very close to meeting all federal air quality standards.
Maryland has filed a petition asking that the EPA require power plants in five upwind states to run their air pollution controls to reduce pollution that significantly affects the quality of the air that Marylanders breathe. We’re not asking for anything that we’re not already doing in Maryland. This common-sense approach – running the pollution controls that are already installed but are not always being used in out-of-state power plants – is the single biggest step we can take to protect our citizens’ lungs and health and level the regulatory playing field for our businesses.
Maryland continues to make progress in meeting goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and in adapting and responding to climate change, a report unanimously approved by the independent Maryland Commission on Climate Change showed. A bill signed into law last year by Governor Hogan requires that Maryland reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent from 2006 levels by 2030 while continuing to have a net positive effect on both the economy and job creation in Maryland.
An active agenda to reduce pollution and increase resiliency is good news for the state and the Chesapeake Bay. As chairman of the Maryland Commission on Climate Change I thank the diverse array of leaders on the Climate Commission for the continuing collaboration and commitment to sustainable solutions.
Healthy Homes and Neighborhoods
Under the Hogan administration, Maryland is taking action to protect more children from the health risks associated with lead paint poisoning by enforcing an expansion of the type of rental housing covered by the state’s lead law. Our most recent Childhood Blood Lead Surveillance report shows that childhood lead poisoning in Maryland remains near record-low levels. However, the 2015 Childhood Blood Lead Surveillance report also finds that the number of children tested for the disease still needs improvement and the number of lead poisoning cases increased in areas of the state where testing was not mandated – underscoring the importance of a new lead testing plan implemented last year by Maryland.
Radon is another potential health concern in the home. Elevated levels of the colorless, odorless naturally occurring gas are the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. MDE and the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene partnered throughout the year to increase education and statewide leadership. As a result, in January 2017 EPA announced a $47,000 grant to our department to support the state’s new indoor radon education program and encourage everyone to test their homes for radon.
Recycling Land and Materials
Our department continues to build on past successes in recycling while looking toward such new frontiers as food composting.
Our department awarded $250,000 in grants to Maryland counties and municipalities to assist in the collection and recycling of electronics such as computers, their monitors, televisions and mobile phones. Recycling these materials saves valuable space in landfills and converses natural resources.
Members of our Maryland Green Registry reported annual savings of $104 million by implementing sustainable, environmentally friendly practices at their facilities. The Maryland Green Registry is a free program that was created to promote and recognize sustainable practices by organizations throughout the state.
We recently held our first-ever Maryland Food Recovery Summit, bringing together a range of stakeholders to look for ways to reduce food waste and divert organic materials from our landfills. The power of innovation and the triumph of collaboration can lead to great progress with waste diversion in Maryland.
Meanwhile, reuse doesn’t just mean materials. Beneficial reuse of former industrial sites can be a win-win for the environment and the economy. One of the best examples is the former Sparrows Point steel mill property. Our Land Restoration Program, working with EPA, is overseeing the ongoing environmental cleanup as this huge economic redevelopment project steams forward. We will continue to hold regular meetings with the community to keep everyone up to speed on what’s happening there.
Compliance assistance and enforcement are important parts of what we do to protect public health and keep our communities clean. We work in collaboration with facilities to ensure they are in compliance with all requirements, but we will go after polluters and impose financial penalties when needed.
An agreement filed in 2016 in federal court requires a company that operates power plants accused of violating permits and polluting the Potomac and Patuxent rivers to pay a $1 million penalty and take steps to protect and restore the environment. Under the agreement, NRG Chalk Point LLC and GenOn Mid Atlantic LLC, which operate the Chalk Point and Dickerson power plants, respectively, also will perform $1 million in environmental projects and upgrade wastewater treatment plant technologies at the coal-burning facilities.
Also, our department is suing automaker Volkswagen for installing devices that allowed thousands of vehicles to exceed emissions standards and pollute Maryland’s air. In the suit, Maryland asks the court to order Volkswagen to pay a civil penalty of $25,000 for each day of each violation of state law.
Customer Service and Government Efficiency
We are a leader among agencies in Governor Hogan’s initiative to improve customer service. In July, our department had state government’s first official weeklong process improvement event, known as a kaizen, to improve the service for customers calling for assistance to our Lead Rental registry. We reduced the percentage of missed calls in June 2016, before the event, from nearly 37 percent to less than 4 percent each month from September through December. We have more process improvement events in the works for 2017.
We are looking forward to building on these accomplishments to continue making real and sustained environmental progress in 2017. The year is already off to a great start. Governor Hogan’s first legislative press conference of the new year centered on four “clean and green” initiatives: a green jobs training program, a green energy institute, the Clean Cars Act and the Clean Water Commerce Act. The year is also going to see significant initiatives by MDE to invest over $75 million from the Volkswagen “defeat device” enforcement action, finalize a stronger and fairer judicial plan to prevent sewer overflows and protect neighborhoods in Baltimore, lead efforts on the Chesapeake Bay TMDL cleanup and climate change plans. In the coming weeks, I’ll describe some important MDE regulations and other key legislative initiatives.
What are your thoughts? Please share them by contacting Ben at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the News
Baltimore Sun: Maryland asks EPA to crack down on pollution from Midwest coal plants
Maryland environmental regulators are asking their federal counterparts to crack down on 19 coal plants in five other states whose emissions – carried hundreds of miles by the wind – make the air here unhealthy to breathe on hot summer days.
Frederick News-Post: Walkersville teen, using recycled cans, secures top prize at state art competition
Rethink Recycling Sculpture Contest grand prize winner Parker Montour and “Tony Hawk”
Walkersville High School junior Parker Montour took 250 soda cans and transformed them into a giant silvery, and sharp-edged, bird of prey. Montour, 16, won the grand prize at the Maryland Department of the Environment’s 15th annual Rethink Recycling Sculpture Contest for her sculpture “Tony Hawk.”
WJZ-TV: Clearing the Air at the Port
Clearing the air, literally. More changes are coming to the Port of Baltimore in an effort to keep it environmentally friendly for the future.
Air, Land, Water – Did you Know?
Governor Larry Hogan announces 2017 environmental agenda
Proposes robust legislative package, $65 million investment to protect Maryland’s environment
Governor Larry Hogan announced key elements of the administration’s environmental agenda for the 2017 legislative session, which includes targeted investments and market-based solutions to protect and preserve Maryland’s environment and natural resources. The governor’s 2017 Environmental Package includes initiatives to grow jobs in green industries, promote the use of electric vehicles, invest in renewable energy innovations, and promote clean water commerce. In total, the proposals outlined by Governor Hogan represent nearly $65 million of investment in Maryland’s environment.
“The proposals in our package are innovative, forward-thinking solutions to ensure that Maryland continues to lead the way to safeguard our environment,” said Governor Hogan. “I look forward to working with legislators to get these common sense measures passed. We owe it to the next generation to continue to find cost-effective ways to protect Maryland’s environment and stimulate economic growth.”
“Under Governor Hogan’s leadership, Maryland has already made great strides to restore the Chesapeake Bay and protect our precious natural resources,” said Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles. “The initiatives proposed in the governor’s legislative package will ensure that Maryland continues to make generational progress in improving our environment.”
Maryland Food Recovery Summit a triumph
Collaboration between stakeholders and MDE generates wealth of ideas and progress
With recycling rates in Maryland and the rest of the country stagnating the past few years, waste regulators have been looking for new ways to divert food from landfills. Because of that, the Maryland Department of the Environment’s Land Management Administration (LMA) held its first-ever Maryland Food Recovery Summit at the Maritime Institute in Lithicum.
More than 170 stakeholders – including representatives from local, state and federal governments, non-profits, the retail food industry, local schools, hospitals and environmental groups — met to tackle the issue of food waste in Maryland. Organics are a priority material in the effort to increase waste diversion. While Maryland’s recycling rates – at 43 to 45 percent – have been far ahead of the national rate of 34 to 35 percent, those figures have leveled out recently because most traditional recyclables are already being captured.
“Trends suggest that food recovery will play an increasing role in achieving higher waste diversion,” said LMA Deputy Director Kaley Laleker, adding that lighter packaging and more difficult to recycle composite materials have contributed to the stalled recycling rates statewide and nationally. Paper and glass also have become less prevalent and electronics have become smaller in size.
Food scraps and yard trimmings combined make up more than 28 percent of the municipal solid waste generated in the United States. Food scraps alone constitute almost 15 percent. In Maryland, an estimated 980,000 tons of food scraps were generated in 2015. Of this, 127,000 tons, or 14.6 percent, were recycled.
MDE Secretary Ben Grumbles opened the summit and reminded attendees that “the power of innovation and the triumph of collaboration” can help lead to great progress with waste diversion in Maryland.
Even Lutz, founder of Hungry Harvest
The first part of the full-day summit focused on preventing food waste and included remarks from local upstarts Hungry Harvest and MEANS Database. The conclusion of the day saw remarks that focused on goals and next steps as a result of the conference from Cheryl Coleman, EPA’s national director of resource conservation and sustainability. LMA Director Hilary Miller brought the day to a close, but not the topic, commenting to guests, “This (summit) is the beginning, not the end.”
Maryland Commission on Climate Change issues annual report
Maryland continues to make progress in meeting goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and in adapting and responding to climate change, a new report shows. The report – unanimously approved by the independent Maryland Commission on Climate Change – also includes recommendations for continued progress in combating the effects of climate change.
“An active agenda to reduce pollution and increase resiliency is good news for the state and the Chesapeake Bay,” said Ben Grumbles, Maryland Secretary of the Environment and Chairman of the Maryland Commission on Climate Change. “Many thanks to the diverse array of leaders on the Climate Commission for the continuing collaboration and commitment to sustainable solutions.”
Maryland raises awareness on lead poisoning prevention
Governor Larry Hogan marked Lead Poisoning Prevention Week by urging all businesses, government agencies and Maryland citizens to raise awareness about lead poisoning and encourage others to do the same. Under the Hogan administration, Maryland has moved to protect more children from the health risks associated with lead paint poisoning by enforcing an expansion of the type of rental housing covered by the state’s lead law. Additionally, regulations adopted this year to implement the plan also make it easier for doctors’ offices to test for lead poisoning during routine visits, reducing the need for parents to make a separate trip to other medical facilities to have their children tested.
EPA awards $537,000 to Maryland to protect wetlands
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today that it has awarded $537,000 to the Maryland Department of the Environment for a project creating a web-based system for submitting wetland permit applications, photographs and plans for restoration projects electronically.
“Wetlands are workhorses for protecting the Chesapeake Bay and increasing the quality of our lives throughout the state,” said Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles. “Web-based permitting for wetlands will improve customer service and deliver environmental results, such as cleaner water, healthier habitat, and more resilient communities.”
Department of the Environment now accepting applications from high school juniors and seniors for its 2017 Environmental Science Student Award and Internship Program
Amy Donna Bitler, MDE’s 2016 environmental science student intern, assisting with air quality monitoring at Hart-Miller Island
The Maryland Department of the Environment is now accepting applications for the 2017 Environmental Science Student Award and Internship Program. The award recognizes high school juniors and seniors who have excelled in environmental science both inside and outside the classroom. The grand prize winner will receive a paid internship, valued at $3,000, at the Department of the Environment during the summer of 2017.
“Our future relies on the student environmental leaders of today,” said Secretary Ben Grumbles. “The Environmental Science Student Award and Internship Program encourages those who are interested in science, technology, and engineering to pursue careers in the environmental field. This internship program provides students with many opportunities to learn new skills and hone their strengths in a real world situation. We are excited to nurture the next generation of environmental scientists here at the Department of the Environment.”
The deadline for nominations is April 3, 2017. Application forms and instructions are available on the Department’s website and may be submitted by email to Nadine.Hailey@maryland.gov or by mail to: Maryland Department of the Environment, Office of Human Resources, 1800 Washington Boulevard, 5th Floor, Baltimore MD 21230, Attention: Nadine Hailey.
Have an Idea?
Email the Editor
We’re always looking for ways to make eMDE even better. Here’s a chance to tell us what you think. Have some thoughts on what we can do better or things you’d like to see more of? An idea for a specific story? We want to hear from you. Contact us!
Our mission is to protect and restore the quality of Maryland’s air, water, and land resources, while fostering smart growth, a thriving and sustainable economy and healthy communities.