There were many hightlights from the 2006 General Assembly sessions. These include:
- Power Plant Emissions Reductions: The Healthy Air Act requires reductions in emissions of the four major air pollutants that come from power plants. It will require emissions reductions of 75 percent for nitrogen oxides, 85 percent for sulfur dioxide, 90 percent for mercury and 10 percent for carbon dioxide from seven coal-fired power plants. Another plant is subject to separate provisions depending upon its impact on grid reliability. The bill requires major sources of mercury emissions to install best available technology and to demonstrate compliance through direct monitoring. It requires Maryland to participate in a regional global warming agreement with seven other East Coast states. If Maryland’s participation ceases for any reason, the governor must submit an alternative emissions reduction plan. Carbon dioxide reductions can be met through efficiency improvements, fuel switching and carbon sequestration offsets (e.g., forest buffers).
- Land Use & Local Government Planning: Several changes were made through HB 1141 as to how local jurisdictions plan for and manage development, including their plans for growth, annexation and water use. Counties and cities will be required to revise their comprehensive plans to include projections of future growth, including the land area and public services required to sustain growth, and the impact on sensitive areas. Comprehensive plans must also include city annexations of county land, as well as water quality and quantity elements. Zoning changes are prohibited unless the developer can demonstrate that adequate water exists to serve proposed new development
- Agricultural Stewardship: The Agricultural Stewardship Act implements the recommendations of the General Assembly’s Agricultural Stewardship Commission. The bill establishes the intent of the General Assembly that the governor increase funding for several existing programs, a number of which support agricultural best management practices. The recommended funding levels represent an increase of $37.6 million to $71.8 million over the fiscal year period 2007-2011, compared to fiscal year 2006 appropriations. The fiscal 2007 budget includes approximately $3.5 million of that increase. The bill also includes a mandatory increase in fiscal 2007 of $0.5 million for county Soil Conservation Districts. In addition, priority preservation areas will be added to county agricultural land preservation programs to target key resource lands. A task force is to be established to recommend improvements to the tax structure related to farmers.
- Land Conservation Funding: Program Open Space received all of the money collected through the real estate transfer tax this year, after three years of funding diversions that removed $191 million from land conservation programs for budget balancing purposes. This year, the program generated a record $361 million, of which about $115 million will go toward agricultural land preservation.
- Mercury Thermostats: This bill bans the sale and manufacture of thermostats that contain mercury. When disposed of improperly, mercury thermostats are often incinerated, releasing mercury into the environment. In Maryland, there are approximately 2.7 million mercury thermostats in homes today, containing 18,000 pounds of mercury. Banning the sale of new mercury thermostats and educating the public about the proper disposal of existing mercury thermostats will accelerate efforts to reduce exposure to this toxic pollutant via air and water.
- Private Fertilizer Use: This legislation requires that retailers post signs near all bags of fertilizer of 50 pounds or larger warning purchasers that the overuse of fertilizer damages the Bay and advising them to get a chemical soil analysis before applying fertilizer to their lawn or garden.
- Chesapeake Bay & Virginia Waters Cleanup & Oversight Act: Legislation requires the secretary of natural resources to develop a cleanup plan for the Chesapeake Bay and Virginia’s impaired waters. The plan will include measurable objectives, a description of the strategies to meet the plan’s objectives, time frames for accomplishing the objectives, and a plan for disbursing funds for point and nonpoint pollution projects. The plan will also include an analysis of alternative funding mechanisms. The secretary is to submit the first plan by January 2007, as well as progress reports on the cleanup semiannually.
- Clean Smokestacks: This bill establishes a federally required, phased schedule for power plants in Virginia to reduce their emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury. Dominion’s plants are required to achieve earlier reductions of NOx (5,000 tons) in 2007 and 2008. Regulated facilities are allowed to participate in the EPA-administered cap and trade system, but the State Air Pollution Control Board can prohibit facilities in non-attainment areas from purchasing credits to meet their sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide caps. The board will also adopt the federal Clean Air Mercury Rule, as well as a state-specific rule for mercury. The Department of Environmental Quality will conduct a detailed assessment of mercury deposition in Virginia to determine if there is justification for the state to undertake additional measures to control mercury emissions.
- Mercury Switches: This bill requires the removal of mercury switches in motor vehicles prior to their demolition. The Virginia Waste Management Board will develop guidelines to implement the program.
- Farmland Preservation: A six-member joint subcommittee will be established to study the financing and programmatic options for preserving Virginia’s open-space land and farmlands.
- Equine Owners’ Income Tax Credit for Agricultural Best Management Practices: Owners of equines may participate in the existing agricultural best management practices tax credit for reducing nonpoint source pollutants (a credit of 25 percent of the first $70,000 expended by the individual for agricultural best management practices).
- Capt. John Smith Land & Water Trail: The General Assembly passed a resolution commending Virginia’s efforts to develop components of the Capt. John Smith Land and Water Trail on Virginia’s tributaries, including the Capt. John Smith’s Adventure on the James Trail.
- Agricultural Land Preservation: The General Assembly approved legislation that would amend the Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Program by:
- Reducing minimum eligible acreage from 50 to 35;
- Reinstating the Land Trust Reimbursement Program, which reimburses land trusts for incidental expenses (title searches, recording fees, etc.) when they purchase easements; and
- Allowing local land trusts to partner with county and state programs.
The Pennsylvanian General Assembly is still in session; other legislation is pending.