Air Pollution Control: The General Assembly approved a bill that would keep Maryland's treadmill emissions test voluntary, rather than allowing the program to become mandatory as was supposed to happen June 1. The EPA has said the state's current tailpipe emissions testing will not meet federal clean air standards. Penalties could include a federal takeover of the state's auto emissions program, the loss of $54 million in federal highway funds and the requirement that every time the state adds a new business, it must eliminate twice as much pollution as the company generates.
To conduct the tests, car engines are run at simulated highway speeds on a treadmill while tailpipe emissions are checked. Critics say the machines damage cars, but supporters say cars rarely suffer and the test will help Maryland meet the clean air standards set by federal law. Supporters also say it is more effective and can identify cars that spew excessive amounts of nitrogen oxides - a pollutant of concern to the Bay - that the current tailpipe test cannot. Gov. Parris Glendening has not said whether he will sign or veto the bill.
Blue crabs: For the second year in a row, legislation to reestablish a recreational crabbing license received overwhelming support in the Senate but failed to get out of a House committee. The Maryland Delegation to the Chesapeake Bay Commission sponsored the legislation, which would have required any individual crabbing with trotlines, traps, or net rings to purchase a seasonal license. Property owners using two pots, handliners, and dipnetters would have been exempted. The license would have cost $5 for a Maryland resident, $2 if the resident was a holder of a Chesapeake Bay sport fishing license, and $10 for a nonresident. Individuals would have been limited to a harvest of one bushel of crabs per day, with a two-bushel limit for multiple individuals on a boat.
The bill would have also set criminal penalties for the sale of noncommercially harvested crabs. The revenues from the sale of the licenses would have been used for enforcement and to fund an extensive survey of the recreational impact on the fishery. At present, Maryland has no way of estimating the impact of recreational crabbing. Economists, scientists, conservationists, commercial and recreational fishing associations, and resource managers in the Bay region have all called for a proper assessment of the recreational crab harvest to better manage the fishery.
Commission members Delegates John F. Wood, Jr., Charles A. McClenahan, and Michael H. Weir are already attempting to address issues necessary to secure support of the House of Delegates during the 1998 session.
Fishery Management Plans: The Chesapeake Bay Commission sponsored legislation authorizing the Department of Natural Resources to develop fisheries management plans for six additional species: black sea bass, tautog, scup, Spanish and king mackerels, and catfish. The state already has management plans for 19 species. The Senate approved the legislation, but an alternative bill was adopted by the House that included only black sea bass, tautog, and scup - the three species that required the most urgent action. The House version won approval.
Oyster Dredging: A bill allowing the use of power dredging for oysters in Somerset County was adopted after a provision was included that requires the establishment of a related sanctuary. The oyster fishery is at historically low levels and the species is under extreme pressure from habitat loss, disease and harvesting pressure. This bill sets daily harvests and authorizes the DNR to vary the limits. It is hoped that sanctuary benefits will outweigh any increased pressure on the species.
Dredged Material Management: Several bills concerning the disposal of dredged material were introduced during the General Assembly session. One involved consideration of the Bay's center channel, or deep trough, as a potential disposal site. The Chesapeake Bay Commission continued to encourage the identification of alternatives to using the deep trough for dredged material disposal, and efforts to use the deep trough were defeated.
Most attention was focused on finding alternative placement sites and beneficial uses of dredged materials. A bill was adopted to prevent the Hart-Miller containment facility in the upper Bay from receiving any dredged material after the spoils reach 44 feet in the current disposal area, or the year 2010, whichever comes first. A previously used disposal area on the island will remain closed to additional dredged material. Once the disposal site is closed, Hart-Miller will be fully developed as a recreational area. The bill established a tight time line for the Maryland Department of Transportation and the Department of Natural Resources to plan and develop the recreational parks.
The limits placed on Hart-Miller Island will help to ensure that the state pursues alternative approaches to the disposal and use of dredged materials.
Toxics: One of the most debated environmental bills in the 1997 Maryland legislative session would have required industries to provide information to the Department of the Environment regarding the processing, manufacturing and use of hazardous and toxic substances. The legislation would have far surpassed in scope the requirements of the federal Toxics Release Inventory, which which only requires the reporting of chemical releases.
The bill was narrowly defeated in the Senate and not considered by the House. The issue is likely be reconsidered in the next session.
Critical Areas: The General Assembly approved a revision to the management of critical areas, which are defined as the riparian, 10-foot, buffer strip around the Bay and its tidal rivers. The change allows the selective harvest of timber in the 50-foot strip farthest from the waterway. The agreement was negotiated among environmental groups, land managers and industry representatives. State oversight and approval are designed to protect the integrity of the buffers which, in turn, protect the health of the Bay and its tributaries.
Most of the information in this report originated from a summary of legislative activity produced by the Chesapeake Bay Commission. The commission is a tri-state legislative advisory body, created by the General Assemblies of Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania to offer policy advice and legislative proposals on matters concerning the Bay. The Commission is also a signatory to the Chesapeake Bay Agreement and thus represents the legislative arm of the Chesapeake Bay Program.