eMDE – Ben’s Blog: 2021 – A Year Like No Other; radon awareness and more

Ben's Blog. Thoughts from Secretary Ben Grumbles

2021: A Year Like No Other

Covid, Climate, and Chesapeake Bay dominated much of 2021, with environmental equity, infrastructure, and resiliency themes running through each and connecting all, just like our digital IT progress at MDE

COVID-19 has been a wild, evolving and painful roller-coaster ride. In 2021, MDE focused on resuming previously suspended licensing and certification procedures and ensuring inspections and enforcement accountability as much as possible during the pandemic, while teleworking and other promising low-carbon, high-efficiency opportunities in this new age continued to take hold. In partnership with Maryland Department of Health and with strong support from Governor Hogan, our agencies launched the Sewer Sentinel Initiative, an innovative testing program to detect COVID in wastewater in congregate settings such as public housing, campuses, and prisons to get a jump start on potential outbreaks. It’s helped to save lives, grow health-based local partnerships, and prompt greater use of bio-monitoring science to detect pathogens in wastewater.

On the climate front, 2021 was filled with local and global action and increasing evidence the crisis could become a catastrophe without deeper decarbonization and greater resiliency. One of my proudest moments as Secretary came in February when the Department issued its 2030 GGRA plan, a comprehensive, detailed and documented road map to greatly reduce greenhouse gases and increase Maryland’s resiliency. We estimate the plan would reduce the pollution 50% by 2030, significantly more than the 40% required by current law, well ahead of most other states, and consistent with the Biden Administration’s ambitious goals for the nation announced during Earth Day month.

The year was about climate actions and partnerships too. MDE finalized its regulatory ban on the manufacture and use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), one of the super-polluting greenhouse gases used in refrigeration and insulation. We also staffed and facilitated another productive year of the Maryland Climate Change Commission, an independent body of 28 individuals from agencies, public and private sector entities and advocacy groups. This year’s December 1 report to the Governor and General Assembly included over 50 consensus-based recommendations on mitigation, adaptation, resiliency, science, and education.

I was also honored to have represented Maryland and Governor Hogan at the global climate summit (known as COP 26) in Glasgow, Scotland in November. Since then many important state and federal actions have followed, such as progress on offshore wind and clean transportation. The U.S. EPA finalized important Clean Air Act regulations to reverse weaker standards set by the previous Administration on tailpipe emissions and fuel economy mileage standards. This is good news for Marylanders and aligns well with our recommendations and ongoing actions to slash greenhouse gases in the transportation sector, embracing cleaner cars, trucks, and buses, and delivering savings to consumers at the pump.

2021 also included important state actions and investments to restore and protect the Chesapeake Bay. After many years of gridlock, FERC issued a much stronger environmental license for Exelon’s Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River, including requirements MDE had negotiated with the dam owner for pollution prevention, ecosystem restoration, and climate resiliency. MES and MDE completed an important pilot project on dredging and beneficial reuse of sediment behind the dam and Bay states finally completed a multistate Conowingo Watershed Implementation Plan to work together for pollution prevention and climate resiliency above and below the dam. Much work remains.

The Maryland General Assembly, with leadership from the Chesapeake Bay Commission, reauthorized and expanded the Clean Water Commerce Act, which Governor Hogan first championed and signed into law in 2017. The Legislature also enacted a first ever Tree Solutions Now Act to boost clean water, environmental equity, and buffers against rising temperatures and flooding.

In October and December, the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council (including six governors, the Mayor of DC and the Administrator of EPA) met to reaffirm our progress for clean water, climate resiliency, and diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice. Governor Hogan also used the importance of the October 1 meeting to articulate four important environmental principles and priorities for the upcoming Maryland General Assembly in 2022. It was also the day Maryland became the sixth state in the country to have a law go into effect banning the intentional release of plastic balloons, given their threat to animals and waterways

2021 saw progress in Maryland with a reinvigorated commission on environmental justice and sustainable communities, staffed and supported by MDE, and continuing efforts in the Maryland Climate Change Commission to identify solutions for improving climate justice, as some of the most underserved communities are also the most vulnerable to extreme heat, flooding, and other stressors.

MDE made significant progress on implementation of its December 2020 Environmental Justice Policy, including a new environmental justice screening tool, working with and building upon the efforts of EPA and the University of Maryland. The department also advanced its work regarding fish consumption advisories, a matter that often involves minority and low income communities to protect against toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

Perhaps the word of the year should be “infrastructure” … as in bipartisan infrastructure and the leadership at federal and state levels to champion the cause, including enactment of the bipartisan infrastructure law which will provide $1.1 trillion for states, communities, and others to benefit clean water, energy, and transportation. Governor Hogan pushed early and often for the legislation which will now result in unprecedented levels of funding for traditional and innovative infrastructure projects for environmental justice, lead-free water, and climate action. The funding should also help Maryland implement MDE’s new municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) permits for large counties, finalized in early December, to help prevent water pollution and also increase climate resiliency. In December, MDE’s Water and Science Administration also developed a draft plan for updating precipitation models and incorporating other measures to adapt its regulatory, mapping, and infrastructure programs to increasingly wetter and wilder weather.

For MDE a connecting thread through all of the action and public outreach has been the work of our information technology team to increase digital progress with electronic reporting, permitting, enforcement, and customer service. December marked the online launch of our new and dramatically improved Lead Rental Certification and Accreditation system to increase education, outreach, and compliance for preventing lead poisoning.

This was also a year with some monumental transitions. State Treasurer Nancy Kopp who has served the state in various public roles for almost 50 years and been a steady and thoughtful champion for environmental and economic progress, particularly on the Maryland Commission on Climate Change, retired at the end of the year. Will Baker, a leader and president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation for 40 years, also retired with a legacy of important accomplishments for the health of our state’s national treasure.

And speaking of treasures, Former state senator Bernie Fowler, a longtime champion of clean water for the Patuxent River and inspiring leader for decades of public engagement through his annual Wade In and Sneaker Test for water quality, passed away at age 97. I had the distinct honor of joining Bernie, state and federal officials and citizens at the annual event along the banks of the Patuxent River more than once and will miss his inspiring, salt-of-the-earth leadership. 

Happy and safe holidays to all and best wishes in the new year.

• Air, Land, Water – Did You Know?

Be radon aware

January is Radon Gas Awareness Month, and MDE’s Radiological Health Program has an array of activities planned.

Two outreach events, in which radon educational materials will be available, will be held at the Eldersburg Library in Carroll County on Wednesday, Jan.12 from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m., and at the Lowes store in Frederick on Saturday, Jan. 15 from 9 a.m. until noon.

Selected billboards in Baltimore City and Baltimore, Howard, Carroll and Frederick counties will have radon awareness messaging between Jan. 2 and Jan. 30. Advertisements will run in the Frederick News-Post newspaper and be placed on its website during January.

MDE’s radon test kit link also will receive wide circulation with posts on the websites of the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, American Lung Association, and Maryland Association of County Health Directors. The websites of Howard, Frederick, Dorchester, Allegany, Caroline, Carroll, Somerset, Talbot and Washington counties also will post the test kit link. MDE has ordered 1,000 additional test kits for sale at the discounted price of $3 and they can be ordered at https://drhomeair.fmbetterforms.com/#/maryland-discount.

MDE’s homepage will have an ad display during January emphasizing the importance of radon testing in residences and the agency’s Facebook page will have radon trivia each Tuesday and offer the chance for readers to win prizes. To read Gov. Larry Hogan’s proclamation, click here https://mde.maryland.gov/programs/Air/RadiologicalHealth/Pages/radon.aspx.

Baltimore City to Hold Consent Decree Public Session

The Baltimore City Department of Public Works (DPW) will hold its annual consent decree public information session which will be held virtually beginning at 6 p.m. on Thursday. Jan. 22. The annual meeting provides an opportunity for residents to receive information about the city’s modified consent decree, a legal agreement between the City of Baltimore and the Environmental Protection Agency and the Maryland Department of the Environment, to address sanitary overflows from the sewer collection system. Residents will be able to ask questions of DPW experts remotely in a virtual meeting room. The virtual room will feature learning stations that will cover topics such as the preventive maintenance programs, the Headworks Project, and the Sewage Onsite Support Cleanup Program and Expedited Reimbursement Program for basement backups caused by wet-weather events. Please register for the meeting using the following link: https://bit.ly/2022MCDPublicInformationSession

• In the News

WMDT-TV: Grant funding aims to provide Pocomoke City residents clean, quality water

After a long wait, there’s finally a solution coming to the Pocomoke City’s water concerns thanks to a partnership between Maryland Departments of the Environment and Housing and Community Development.

“It’s a smart and necessary step forward. Communities absolutely deserve clean drinking water and modern infrastructure to meet their needs and the needs of their citizens,” Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles said.

See the story

Capital News Service: In move to electric vehicles, Maryland is doing better than most states

The future of the American automobile industry is electric, President Joe Biden said in an August executive order, pledging to make half of all new cars and trucks sold in 2030 zero-emission vehicles. But weaning the nation off of gas-fueled vehicles might be easier said than done, although Maryland is doing better than most states.

Read more

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