Lawmakers in Virginia and Maryland came and went this year without leaving many footprints on legislation that would have major impacts on the Bay and the environment.
A large number of initiatives were either defeated or — in Virginia — carried over for consideration next year.
“People are still thinking in terms of economic development. People are afraid to do something that's going to cost money,” said Maryland Delegate Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery, a leader of the environmental forces in the House.
In Maryland, lawmakers defeated legislation that would have required farmers to develop nutrient management plans if the state falls short of goals set for existing voluntary programs. But property rights advocates and industry groups couldn't declare any victories either. They were shut out in their quest for relief from environmental restrictions.
“It's sort of a standoff — no one won and no one lost,” said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, lobbyist for Clean Water Action.
“The environmentalists have not been able to enact any of their significant bills, but on the other hand, they haven’t lost anything. It’s been a draw,” agreed Paul Tiburzi, lobbyist for The Rouse Co., one of Maryland's largest developers.
The story was not much different in Virginia, where a number of initiatives aimed at scaling back environmental protections failed. But new environmental protections fared no better, at least in part because pro-environment lawmakers held off proposals for fear that Gov. George Allen would veto tougher laws, said Sen. Joseph V. Gartlan Jr., D-Fairfax County. “The [political] environment has been very harsh to the environment,” he said.
Allen has repeatedly said economic concerns must come before the environment. Having Allen in office “has been very helpful in slowing down the regulation train,” said Sen. Frank W. Nolen, D-Augusta County. “Things were moving too fast on the environmental regulation side.” Nolen argued that environmental regulations cost too much for the benefits gained.
Becky Norton Dunlop, Virginia's secretary of natural resources, said claims that the new administration has declared “open season” on the environment are unwarranted. She said the administration is interested in helping the environment, not in simply putting new laws on the books.
“I'm afraid [environmentalists] who are afraid we are going to have an adversarial relationship don't know me very well,” Dunlop said. “My interest is in solving problems.”
Among the legislation considered in 1994:
- For the third year in a row, the legislature defeated a bill that would have mandated nutrient management plans for farmers. The legislation would have required farmers who receive state cost-share money to develop such plans. It would also have required the plans to be developed for any livestock or poultry operations and for any farms where manure is applied — regardless of whether they receive cost-share money — if existing voluntary programs failed to meet specific goals.
- A bill that would have allowed counties to establish a property tax credit for farmers who reduce or eliminate agricultural nonpoint source pollution through locally approved soil conservation and water quality plans was defeated.
- An administration-backed proposal that would have allowed the state to assume federal wetland regulatory authority was defeated. The intent was to streamline the permit process which is now handled by both the state Department of Natural Resources and the Army Corps of Engineers. Supporters said the legislation would have reduced duplicative paperwork, allowed more timely permit decisions, and made more resources available for watershed planning and wetland restoration efforts. Opponents expressed concern that the action would weaken wetland protection, particularly if the state delegated regulatory authority to local governments.
- The assembly approved a bill intended to cap blue crab harvests. The bill limits the number of crab pots used by commercial crabbers to 300 per license and a maximum of 900 per boat if two additional licensed crew members are aboard. The law also eliminated the noncommercial license which had allowed significant harvests by noncommercial crabbers. But the assembly defeated a bill to require recreational crabbers to buy a $7 license. The money would have been used to collect more reliable data on recreational harvests.
- A bill that would have given citizens legal “standing” to challenge administrative decisions was again defeated. Under existing law, citizens must show that a disputed agency permit, rule, or resolution would cause direct harm to the person or their property. The proposed change would have allowed a citizen to challenge an action based on harm to the general public.
- A toxics reduction bill aimed at cutting back the use of certain pesticides was withdrawn from consideration by the House Environmental Matters Committee after it drew widespread opposition from business groups.
- A bill that would have transferred local governments’ power to regulate pesticides to the state Department of Agriculture, which environmentalists contend is dominated by farmers, was defeated on the floor of the House by a single vote.
- An effort to rescind Maryland’s previous passage of a “California cars” bill was beaten back by environmentalists in both houses. The bill, passed two years ago, would require the sale of cleaner-burning cars in Maryland if enough neighboring states do the same.
- Two pollution prevention bills were defeated. One would have required the Department of the Environment to develop a comprehensive strategic plan that incorporated pollution prevention objectives for consideration when developing permits for administering regulatory permits and administering regulatory and capital programs. The other would have required the department to institute a Toxic Use Reduction Program and mandated that manufacturers develop toxic use reduction plans, submit them to the department, and update them every two years.
- The House of Delegates carried over until next year a bill that would remove Virginia from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. The legislation stems from concerns about the federal Atlantic Coastal Fisheries Cooperative Management Act, approved by Congress last year, which requires states to enact fishery management plans approved by the commission. The legislation was opposed by Virginia officials and some lawmakers who thought the federal bill is unconstitutional because it usurps state regulatory powers.
- A bill was approved creating a voluntary nutrient management certification program. The new program will help farmers by increasing the number of people certified to write the plans. Under the legislation, the Department of Conservation and Recreation will establish regulations to certify individuals to prepare state-approved agricultural nutrient management plans. Implementing these plans makes farmers eligible for a number of cost-share and tax-credit programs.
- The General Assembly passed a bill to require an economic impact analysis of state regulations. Proposed regulations will need to be submitted to the Department of Planning and Budget for an economic cost analysis prior to their publication in the Virginia Register.
- For the third year in a row, legislation that would give citizens increased legal “standing” to challenge state regulatory actions was debated. Legislation that would allow someone other than a permit holder or applicant to challenge a state water permit decision was carried over until next year. Similar legislation was defeated last year, though the assembly a year ago did approve legislation that allowed citizens to challenge state-granted air pollution permits in court.
- A bill to freeze the existing boundaries of Virginia’s federally recognized coastal zone was carried over until next year. The bill would limit the impact of the federal Coastal Zone Management Act Section 6217 program which requires the installation of runoff control measures in designated coastal zones to reduce pollution.
- Legislation to regulate the land application of sewage sludge was approved. The Department of Health, with the assistance of the Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Conservation, will develop regulations aimed at protecting public health and the environment.
- A bill that establishes a general permit for confined animal feeding operations that exceed 300 animal units was approved. The legislation sets standards for operation, nutrient management planning, inspection, monitoring, reporting, and registration for farms that exceed the threshold.
- A proposal by the Commission on Population Growth and Development that would establish a state-level strategic planning process was carried over until next year.
- Two bills addressing state ownership and management of coastal lands on the Eastern Shore were carried over until the 1995 session. The bills, which resulted from a Chesapeake Bay Commission-sponsored study, attempt to codify state ownership of at least 28,000 acres of unclaimed coastal lands and establish a means of managing them.
- The General Assembly passed legislation that establishes a process to review potential oil production wells. Under the legislation, if a site is likely to produce oil, the secretaries of Natural Resources and Commerce and Trade will prepare a report to the governor and General Assembly recommending regulatory or statutory actions. Permits for oil or gas production may be issued only after the governor and legislature approve. The current moratorium on production wells in Virginia’s coastal plain expires July 1.
— The Chesapeake Bay Commission and the Associated Press contributed to this report.