MD legislature passes sewage fee, septic system bills
Maryland's environmental community didn't get the wind to go their way on legislation to create incentives for offshore wind power development, but other environmental priorities discovered relatively smooth sailing in Maryland's legislative session.
A bill to double the $2.50 fee Maryland homeowners now pay to support the Bay Restoration Fund easily passed. The fund helps to pay for upgrades to the state's largest sewage treatment plants. The fee is also used to pay for cover crops and septic systems that remove nitrogen from the effluent.
The legislature also passed a bill limiting development that would rely on septic systems. Farmers, local governments, home developers and rural legislators railed against the bill this year, just as they did last year, when Gov. Martin O'Malley surprised even his allies by proposing curbs on septic systems.
Also passing was a bill requiring the state's largest jurisdictions to levy a stormwater remediation fee and to create a plan to protect watersheds from polluted stormwater by next summer. The bill would affect Baltimore City and the Maryland's Baltimore, Howard, Harford, Frederick, Anne Arundel, Prince George's, Charles and Carroll counties. Montgomery County, which includes many of the DC suburbs and is the state's largest, with nearly 1 million people, is exempt. It already has a robust stormwater control program.
The Family Farm Preservation Bill, a priority for the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, also passed. It allows farming families to pass their property down to the next generation without incurring tax burdens.
A bill to ban any additive that contains arsenic to chicken feed passed both chambers despite lobbying from the pharmaceutical industry. The bill failed last year. But this year, activists were armed with a study showing that the arsenic from the feed can reach the streams in a form that can affect fish and other marine life.
The arsenic additive most commonly used in the Eastern Shore poultry industry is Roxarsone. Alpharma, a subsidiary of Pfizer Inc., the manufacturer of the drug, has voluntarily stopped making Roxarsone, but it is not yet banned by the Food and Drug Administration and could have come back on the market at any time. Perdue, the Shore's largest producer, stopped using Roxarsone several years ago because, the company said, it found it could maintain bird health without it.
Two bills requiring fees and taxes on natural gas companies seeking to drill in the Marcellus Shale also failed. The state is still studying the issue and is unlikely to approve any drilling before 2014.
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