Ben's Blog - Thoughts from Secretary Ben Grumbles

Green in ’17 – and Looking to the New Year

The Maryland Department of the Environment had a very productive 2017, taking important steps to restore the Chesapeake Bay, mitigate and adapt to climate change, fight for clean air, and advance environmental health initiatives such as lead poisoning prevention and more. We’re seeing measurable results and setting some records along the way, but recognize a lot more work is in store for 2018. Continual improvement will be key.

Clean Water and the Chesapeake Bay

The Chesapeake Bay, our greatest natural asset, is the cleanest it’s been in 25 years, as shown by University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and EPA report cards. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s 2016 State of the Bay included the highest score since the organization’s first report 18 years earlier. Still, we are attacking the challenge to fully restore the Bay on many fronts.

Just last month, Maryland announced its notice of intent to award a contract to partner with the private sector on a pilot project to remove sediment at the Conowingo Dam. Scientists agree the Dam has essentially lost its capacity to trap sediment and phosphorus pollution, and without positive action will cloud our future and doom us to failure under the Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan. We are also focused on the proposed 46-year relicensing of the Conowingo Dam for Water Quality Certification under the federal Clean Water Act.

Conowingo damThe Dam challenge is one of the biggest environmental opportunities for the Bay and the Susquehanna in decades. The pilot project for dredging and beneficial reuse, the relicensing negotiations with Exelon for the dam’s continued operation, and the midpoint checkup on Bay restoration plan progress are all converging for a cleaner river and Bay, and they all depend on pollution prevention, collaboration and innovation. An ounce of prevention upstream is worth a pound of sediment behind the dam and the value of risk management behind the dam and the potential for innovative uses of clean sediment throughout the watershed are all critical to our success.

To boost the cleanup even more, MDE has proposed regulations to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of projects through a credit exchange program that provides accountability with flexibility, reducing overall cost, but without changing our strong standards and ambitious goals. The proposed regulations will help our work for bay health and sustainability by expanding the number of partners on the team and spurring new partnerships, leading to a restoration economy that brings invaluable benefits to Maryland, such as cleaner water, improved information technology, and green jobs. Our regulations will include strong safeguards and enforcement provisions to ensure compliance with the Clean Water Act at all times. We are positioned to get a trading program going in 2018.

We will also continue our work to prevent sewage overflows in Baltimore City. MDE and its federal partners reached an agreement last year with the City to greatly reduce the amount of sewage that overflows there within less than four years. The agreement – a modification to a 2002 consent decree – mandates improvements and provides for greater transparency, requiring, among other things, that the City hold annual public forums on progress. The City’s first meeting, scheduled for Jan. 23, will be held at MDE headquarters in Baltimore.

As Maryland’s environment secretary and chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Principals’ Staff Committee, I am proud of our multi-state teamwork with EPA and other agencies and our partnerships with local governments and the private sector that are all critical to our success. Governor Hogan, whose administration has invested more than $3 billion in state funds to protect and restore the Bay, is fighting proposed federal funding cuts, supporting the role of sound science and regulatory enforcement, and encouraging innovation and stewardship to ensure we stay on track with bold environmental goals for our national treasure.

Climate Change

I was honored to represent Maryland at the United Nations Climate Change Conference last November in Bonn, Germany. It was a chance to discuss the actions Maryland is taking to make the state a national leader in curbing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing resiliency and preparedness throughout the state and region – while gathering insights into how others around the world are addressing these challenges.

When the federal administration announced its intention to withdraw from the Paris Climate Change Agreement last year, the Hogan administration immediately stated its opposition and reaffirmed Maryland’s commitment to stringent clean air standards.With our law requiring greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced by 40 percent by 2030, proudly signed by Governor Hogan in 2016, Maryland is a leader in fighting climate change.

Ben Grumbles iIn Bonn, I was also able to share with a large international and US audience lessons and insights from our independent bipartisan state Commission on Climate Change and successes of our participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the nation’s first market-based regulatory program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. Last August, Governor Hogan and representatives from the eight other RGGI states announced a consensus agreement on a plan to strengthen and renew the program through 2030. We hosted a regional/national stakeholder meeting in September in Baltimore, and the model rule was finalized last month. With that, the coming year will be the start of a new era of an even stronger RGGI program.

On Jan. 8, I wrote to EPA with concerns about the possible repeal of the Clean Power Plan, stating that MDE opposes a repeal unless the plan is replaced with a policy that is as effective and enforceable as RGGI. MDE has also reiterated our request that EPA hold a hearing in Annapolis or the Baltimore region before taking any action. It is pivotal that EPA have the benefit of hearing first hand from our residents, businesses and communities about how the repeal will affect Maryland’s progress and the importance of coordinated action to reduce greenhouse gas emission and air pollution.

Clean Air

While we continue to make progress in reducing air pollution generated in our state, pollution that blows into Maryland from upwind states persists as a major problem. In September, Maryland filed suit against EPA for its failure to act on a 2016 petition from MDE requiring 19 power plants in five upwind states to reduce pollution that significantly affects the quality of the air Marylanders breathe. EPA’s approval of the petition is critical to protecting the health of Marylanders and is important to a healthy Maryland economy.

Our state filed another clean air lawsuit in December, this time seeking judicial review of the EPA’s decision to deny a 2013 multi-state petition asking federal regulators to require nine upwind states to join what is known as the “Ozone Transport Region” (OTR). Under the federal Clean Air Act, states added to the OTR would have to take actions consistent with the air pollution efforts of the downwind states through use of readily available control technologies and reliance on cleaner fuels to generate power.

Interstate smog doesn’t respect political boundaries, so we need more action by upwind states and EPA to help us protect our citizens and level the playing field for our businesses. Maryland is fully engaged and using all available tools to leverage more action and deliver cleaner air to our communities.

VEIP - Let's Clear The AirThe new year brought regulatory reforms, announced previously by Governor Hogan, that will save Maryland taxpayers time and money, as well as protect the health of our environment, through common sense changes to the state’s Vehicle Emissions Inspection Program (VEIP). Our commitment to continual improvement in the vehicle emissions testing program will increase customer convenience while maintaining our progress on air quality and the Chesapeake Bay.

Lead Poisoning Prevention

In October, MDE reported that childhood lead poisoning cases in Maryland decreased the prior year to the lowest levels since data has been collected in connection with the state’s 1994 lead law. Also, blood lead testing rates increased across Maryland in the first year of the state’s initiative to test all children at ages 1 and 2. MDE continues to work with the Maryland Department of Health and the Department of Housing and Community Development, as well as local partners, to prevent childhood lead poisoning in Maryland.

The report followed Governor Hogan’s announcement earlier in the year that the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services approved an application by the Department of Health to launch a $7.2 million initiative to reduce lead poisoning and improve asthma, two conditions related to environmental conditions in housing. MDE is committed to reducing exposure to lead in newer rental homes now covered under Maryland’s lead law and to enforcing the law for older rental units, including those in Baltimore City. We will work closely with our partners to eliminate this completely preventable disease.

Sustainable Materials Management

The year also included a new step for more holistic and collaborative approaches to “waste” and materials throughout the state. Governor Hogan issued an Executive Order on Waste Reduction and Resource Recovery in June. The state remains committed to reducing, reusing and recycling in pursuit of “zero waste” goals, but is also launching an exciting new public-private partnership for sustainable materials management with businesses, county waste management officials and others. Multiple state agencies are involved as well. Whether you call it the “circular economy” or sustainable materials management, it’s all about partnerships for rethinking our approach to materials and their lifecycle impacts on Maryland’s environment and economy. Stay tuned as some exciting projects and surprising partnerships get underway in 2018.

Maryland Department of the Environment - Since 1987A Final Thought

MDE celebrated a birthday in 2017 – the big 3-0. To mark the occasion, and 30 years of progress and change, we convened close to 500 colleagues in May at our Montgomery Park headquarters. Employees both current and former – including seven of the department’s eight previous Secretaries – gathered to celebrate the past and recommit to the future. In December, we published a 20-page book that looks back on our 30 years and describes the many ways in which MDE has furthered its mission of protecting and restoring the environment for the health and well-being of all Marylanders. As we enter the new year, we invite all Marylanders to join us in this experience of keeping our home such a special place. Our agency works for you. Here’s to a green ‘18.

In the News

Capital News Service
Students Turn Trash Into Artistic Treasure for Annual Competition

Students at high schools across the state found new ways to turn trash into artistic treasures with their entries in the Maryland’s Department of the Environment’s 16th annual Rethink Recycling Sculpture Contest.

Read more


One Million Dollars Pegged for Princess Anne Wastewater Project of Sediment Behind Conowingo Dam Reach Capacity

A project in Princess Anne to help its infrastructure and the environment has been approved for a $1 million grant. The Princess Anne Wastewater Treatment Plant energy project is part of the Department of Environment’s initiative focused on combining clean water and clean energy.

Read more


Our say – Gov. Larry Hogan, Attorney General Brian Frosh Know Where Wind is Blowing

In a perfect world, state officials wouldn’t have to go to court to make the federal government — specifically, the Environmental Protection Agency — enforce the law and get power plants in upwind states to control emissions. The EPA shouldn’t need such prompting. But this is a less-than-perfect world and Marylanders have to breathe in it. So, a six-month response period having come and gone with no peep from the EPA, Gov. Larry Hogan was right in directing state Attorney General Brian Frosh to sue the federal agency.

Read more

Air, Land, Water – Did you Know?

Canned foodGoing Organic

The Maryland Department of the Environment will be holding meetings throughout the year as part of a study on keeping organic materials out of landfills. The first meeting is coming up later this month.

The study is being done under House Bill 171, passed last year and signed into law by Governor Hogan. The law requires MDE, in consultation with stakeholders, to study and make recommendations relating to the diversion of yard waste, food scraps and other organic materials. This study follows a previous study on composting that led to revised regulatory requirements. Organic materials such as food scraps and yard trimmings make up 24 percent of the waste disposed in Maryland. Instead of being wasted, surplus edible food can be donated to feed hungry people, and inedible food scraps and yard trimmings can be used to make compost.

The initial meeting on organic materials had been scheduled for Jan. 4 but was postponed due to inclement weather. It has been rescheduled for Jan. 24. The meeting will be held from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at MDE headquarters, 1800 Washington Boulevard in Baltimore. The meeting is open to the public.

More information is available on MDE’s website. Anyone interested in being added to the interested parties list to receive emails with information on future meetings can email dave.mrgich@maryland.gov.

Stream going through a forestQuality Water Works

Maryland’s Integrated Report of Surface Water Quality (Integrated Report) identifies water bodies that are impaired and the specific pollutants which are causing impairment. The Integrated Report also lists waters that are meeting water quality standards. The Integrated Report serves many purposes relating to the water quality planning for a number of federal, state, county and local government organizations, as well as non-governmental organizations. By updating the water quality status of water bodies, it helps to set priorities for which watersheds should be addressed by Total Maximum Daily Loads (pollution limits) and restoration and which are in need of protection.

Maryland’s 2016 Integrated Report was approved by the EPA this past November (2017). The next report, the 2018 Integrated Report, will be out for public comment starting in February of 2018. Additional information about Maryland’s Integrated Report is available on MDE’s website.

Recycle your Christmas treeTreecycling

Each year, more than 40 million Christmas trees are sold in the United States. Do your part for Maryland’s environment by recycling your Christmas tree this year. Recycled Christmas trees can be used for mulch, soil erosion barriers and many other environmentally friendly uses. Learn more about how to recycle Christmas trees in your county on MDE’s website.

Have an Idea?

Email the Editor

Contact US!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 at editor.mde@maryland.gov.


MDE’s Mission

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.