Prepared by the staff of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which represents the legislatures of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Although budget shortfalls dominated this year’s General Assembly, lawmakers in both Maryland and Virginia dealt with a number of environmental bills. Both states approved new measures to help control the spread of nonnative species, and Virginia is seeking to promote low impact development to reduce runoff, while Maryland is promoting energy efficiency and alternative fuels to reduce pollution.
(Pennsylvania’s General Assembly is still in session.)
Here are highlights from Maryland and Virginia:
Development: A Low Impact Development Assessment Task Force was created to help promote alternatives to traditional stormwater management. The bill defines “low impact development” as a site-specific system of design and development techniques that can serve as an effective, low-cost alternative to existing stormwater and water quality control methods and which will reduce storm runoff and pollution. The task force, to be appointed by the director of the Department of Environmental Quality, is to develop a certification process for low impact development techniques in achieving quantifiable pollution prevention or abatement results. It will also develop other guidance for local governments and the general public as necessary to promote a more complete understanding of the most effective use of low impact development techniques, as well as a model ordinance. The Task Force is to also recommend changes to existing statutes and regulations to facilitate the use of low impact development techniques
Exotic Species: The Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Nuisance Protection Act was approved, and will be administered by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. The act declares the zebra mussel, the quagga mussel and the snakehead fish as non-indigenous nuisance species and authorizes the Board of Game and Inland Fisheries to designate other species as such if they are found to pose a significant threat. The bill authorizes the DGIF to suppress or eradicate any nuisance species populations and gives the department the authority to obtain a warrant to conduct such operations on private property. It also prohibits the possession, introduction, transportation and sale of non-indigenous species without a permit. In addition, the bill establishes a nine-member Invasive Species Council which is charged with providing state leadership on preventing and controlling invasive species. The council, to be composed of executive agency heads and chaired by the secretary of natural resources, must prepare a statewide invasive species management plan.
Wastewater Treatment: The General Assembly approved a resolution urging Congress to pass legislation funding nitrogen reduction technology. Introduced by many members of Virginia’s Congressional delegation, the bill would provide cost-share grants to sewage treatment plants within the Bay watershed that install advanced nitrogen reduction technology.
Bottom Land Royalties: A resolution was approved directing the Virginia Delegation to the Chesapeake Bay Commission to study the collection of rents and royalties for the use of state-owned bottom lands. The resolution also asks the delegation to evaluate the establishment of a regulatory framework that is specific to on-and-off bottom intensive aquaculture, as well as proposals by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science regarding shallow water management.
Waste Transport: To comply with a recent court decision, legislation was passed eliminating the prohibition on transporting waste on the Rappahannock, James and York Rivers and the stacking limitation for containers on barges. The bill also broadens the Waste Management Board’s authority to charge a waste barging fee and allows fees to be used to fund barge-related pollution abatement activities, improving water quality and other waste-related purposes.
Failed Bills: A number of bills affecting the Bay did not pass during this session. Among them:
- A legislative package that would have granted localities more authority to manage growth by allowing them to defer approval of subdivisions where there are not adequate schools, roads, public safety, sewer or water facilities.
- Two bills affecting the Chesapeake Bay Local Assistance Department. One would have merged the Virginia Coastal Resources Management Program into the CBLAD; the other would have abolished CBLAD and placed responsibility for administering the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act with the Department of Conservation and Recreation.
- A bill imposing a two-week moratorium on the taking of sponge crabs, which was intended to enhance the blue crab spawning population.
Redevelopment: Brownfields are primarily urban industrial or commercial sites that are either abandoned or underutilized, and are often associated with hazardous substance contamination. Approved legislation makes several changes to the Voluntary Cleanup Program within the Maryland Department of the Environment and exempts certain property owners and operators from the definition of a “responsible person” under the Controlled Hazardous Substance Law to encourage the cleanup and redevelopment of brownfields. The bill also establishes a 15-member Environmental Restoration and Development Task Force to address key issues that may be hampering the redevelopment of these properties.
Alternate Fuels: Hybrid vehicles, which use gasoline and one of several types of alternative fuels, will be exempt from the Maryland Vehicle Emissions Inspections Program under a bill approved by the General Assembly. These vehicles must attain city fuel economy of at least 50 miles per gallon and are designed to meet federal vehicle exhaust standards set under the National Low-Emission Vehicle Program for gasoline-powered passenger cars.
Energy Efficiency: While Maryland provides tax exemptions for the purchase of certain energy-efficient appliances, it has not developed standards governing the efficiency of products sold and installed in the state. New legislation directs the Maryland Energy Administration to adopt regulations establishing minimum energy efficiency standards for specified new household and commercial products to be sold in Maryland after March 1, 2005, or installed after January 1, 2006. The bill provides for the certification, testing and inspection of those products and establishes a civil penalty for repeat violations by manufacturers, distributors and retailers.
Environmental Fines: A bill was passed to expand existing criminal and civil penalty provisions related to violations of sediment control, stormwater management, and wetlands and riparian rights provisions administered by the state Department of the Environment. In addition, courts may order the restoration of areas unlawfully disturbed by inadequate sediment control and stormwater management measures. Criminal penalties would double—from a maximum of $5,000 to $10,000—for sediment and stormwater violations, and the criminal penalty for a first offense violation of wetlands/riparian rights would rise from a maximum of $500 to $10,000 under this bill.
Exotic Species: The “snakehead incident” during the summer of 2002 resulted in legislation authorizing the secretary of natural resources to adopt regulations to prohibit the importation, possession or introduction of a nonnative aquatic organism into state waters. The bill authorizes the DNR to enter and inspect properties to determine if a “state of nuisance” exists, and establishes provisions related to abatement. A “state of nuisance” means a condition in which a nuisance organism will foreseeably alter and threaten to harm the ecosystem or the abundance and diversity of native or naturalized fish and other organisms.
Oysters: In response to the low oyster harvest, the Potomac River Fisheries Commission’s Oyster Advisory Committee asked the commission to seek authorization to regulate power dredging in addition to dredging with handscrapes. Legislation was approved giving the commission that authority. Those wishing to use power dredges would be subject to any applicable license fees established by the PRFC.
Charterboats: Licensed Virginia charterboat operators will be allowed to operate their boats in Maryland if they obtain a Maryland Provisional Chesapeake Bay Charterboat License. Previously, out-of-state boats were required to obtain a Maryland fishing guide license in addition to the charterboat license. Because Maryland had ceased issuing the fishing guide license as part of its limited entry program, the effect was to restrict Virginia charterboat operators from Maryland waters. The legislation approved by the General Assembly will provide for equitable requirements between the two states.
Failed Bills: A number of bills affecting the Bay did not pass this session. Among them:
- Legislation that would temporarily suspend penalties associated with nutrient management planning requirements.
- Bills allowing oyster power dredging in specified regions.
- Legislation to reduce air emissions from coal-fired power plants.
- A resolution urging Congress to support a cost-share grant program for sewage treatment plants in the Bay watershed that upgrade with advanced nitrogen removal technology.