Wednesday, February 3, 2016

How does the environment fare under Hogan?

the 22nd Environmental Summit in Annapolis
Following eight years under Governor O'Malley who worked closely with activists on environmental issues, the environmental groups are still feeling their way forward a full year into the Republican Hogan administration. Hogan had delivered his State of the State address on the same day as the 22nd legislative summit took place in Annapolis in the Senate's Mike Miller Building. In it Governor Hogan had struck a much more cordial tone than in his address last year.

Much has happened since last year. The Gov's approval ratings are sky-high and much of of the attention has shifted from the environment to economic development and social justice and the ways how Baltimore City should be helped. Environmental groups took notice and many of the summit's presentations were couched with environmental justice in mind.
Ben Jealous, Center for American
Progress

Ben Jealous from the Center for American Progress noted that the environmental movement and the NAACP's civil rights are "all one movement". "There is no environmental vote without the black or Latino vote", he exclaimed.
At last year's environmental summit Speaker of the House, Michael Busch had vowed to stand firm on stormwater and the fees enacted under the previous Governor. Today Senate President Miller's crafty SB 863, the Watershed Protection and Restoration Program allows counties and municipalities to regulate their own stormwater fee was celebrated as a win-win and a sign of bipartisan collaboration, The bill had passed last year with only one no-vote and replaced the full repeal that Hogan had intended. With the new bill the fee is not mandatory anymore and it is up to the counties if they want to levy it. A number of counties have repealed their fees, including Baltimore County, even though the federal mandates for Bay clean-up and maximum nutrient loads will remain in effect.
House Speaker Busch

Other points of contention are the funds for Program Open Space, funds collected from real estate transaction that get routinely diverted to prop up the general fund, a practice which candidate Hogan had decried in his campaign. O'Malley had refunded those diverted moneys for open space with bonds. Hogan, opposed to such maneuvers has nevertheless continued to divert open space funds in his proposed budget. Legislation sponsored by environmentalists wants to create an "Open Space Trust Fund" that would, at least theoretically, have higher barriers against raids.

A big controversial item is transportation and Hogan's cancellation of the $3 billion Red Line rail transit project in Baltimore. Much of the State portion of the money was re-channeled to rural road projects, a move irking environmentalists who suspect that roads induce sprawl. Various groups are expected to launch bills that require greater accountability on how transportation money is spent for roads. Unlike transit projects that have to prove through a whole slew of metrics that a proposed project is "cost effective", those measures are not required when it comes to roads. Environmentalists contend that most of Hogan's proposed road projects are the true "boondoggles" (term the Governor had affixed to the Red Line tunnels). Dru Schmidt Perkins of the 1000 Friends of Maryland singled out a western Maryland road near Cumberland as a "Highway from nowhere through nowhere to nowhere".
Secretary Grumbles, MDE

As usual, the groups sponsoring the summit event including the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, the 1000 Friends of Maryland and Maryland Environmental Health among others brought out the big guns to adress the assembled activists.

House Speaker Mike Busch, introduced as a "tireless champion of the environment" began the addresses and emphasized that  "there are 188 legislators here. They want to know what's important from you. You have to be active. They weren't proactive in Flint Michigan" he exclaimed. Flint was a favorite punching bag for many speakers.

Hogans Secretary of the Environment, Ben Grumbles followed Speaker Busch ("don't write Busch was followed by Grumbles", he quipped) and from his statements there was no telling that there would be any daylight between environmentalists and him. He, too referred to the water crisis in Flint, an item close to his heart as former EPA Administrator for drinking water. He emphasized that "MDE understands risks to drinking water safety" and that it makes non sense to be "penny wise and Flint foolish". "Testing and enforcement is important" he said, implicitly allowing that government is important.  He cited the MD Climate Change Commission as an "example of bipartisan collaboration for common sense which found common ground on the base of data" from Don Bosch (a sea-level scientist at the University of Maryland) and others. On the topic of a cleaner Bay he confirmed that "we are
Bee keepers in full regalia
for the Pollinator Protection Act
a bill that failed last year under
pressure by the pesticide industry
committed to the TMDL targets. We need to make sure that all have a stake in this and that we make progress, not roll back."  He described nutrient trading as an "absolutely important strategy" and a "really an important tool to meeting the TDML requirements". On the often contentious issue of how agriculture and chicken frams load up the Bay with nutrients he said: "We want to work with and not against agriculture to make progress in phosphorus loads". The Hogan budget includes $53 million for the Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund. Like many other speakers Grumbles wants to ensure that Maryland remains "a leader in the environment".

Kumar Barve who replaced Maggie Makintosh as the chair of the House Environment and Transportation Committee was very optimistic. "Last year got a two year fracking moratorium" he reminisced. "Remember the term rain tax?" he asked and boasted "we created a win-win situation with the storm water bill". He added "we did the micro bead bill" and described how States have become leaders over the federal government.. "Little Maryland can be an environmental leader. We can do it in a bipartisan manner", he concluded.
Attorney General Brian Frosh

Brian Frosh, the Attorney General, was introduced as an "environmental hero" and mused that "it is on my mind a lot how important government is for the environment." And he didn't just mean Michigan but also reported about a Maryland failing:  "It came to light that a private inspector falsely certified apartments as lead free. There aren't enough inspectors." About the Republicans favorite activity of trimming government he observed that ''we are not doing more with less, we are doing less with less. We are putting lives at risk if we are doing less."

Dr Sacoby Wilson, Professor at the University of MD, School of Public Health added a passionate academic perspective to environmental justice. "There are many Flints across the country at the intersection of race, class and invisibility" he called out, evoking Flint once more. "Curtis Bay was the worst zip code in the United States for air quality over several years" he reported and added that its "income was lower than [even] the Baltimore City average".
"We have to have a multi prong holistic approach to address environmental justice. Heat waves are hell for the poor. Communities impacted by environmental injustice deserve better." He summarized about the legislation on the agenda: "These bills can help us to get more environmental and health justice."
Dr. Sacoby Wilson

Paul Pinski Vice Chair Senate Ed, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee emphasized that when it comes to chicken manure the responsibility should rest with the big corporate producers. He explained that the proposed greenhouse gas reduction act with 40% reduction is more than what was agreed on in the Paris Accord. "188 countries understand this but in the US we still have people who have the head in the sand" he stated under applause.

Presentations and handouts were available about neonicotinoid, ("neonics") a common pesticide that is strongly correlated with a sharp decline in honey bee colonies, about a necessary re-write of the "Roadside Preservation and Tree Protection" standards (House Bill 178), another run to ban plastic bags statewide, and workforce development around the solar economy. ("Bring diversity to the clean energy economy!").
Recent poll by Opinionworks was presented by Steve Raabe

The presentations were topped by a report about latest polling results about "What Maryland thinks". (See slides below). It turns out that liberals better embrace bi-partisanship. Maryland voters think in big numbers that Maryland is on the right track, an opinion that previously only Democrats shared, now both camps of voters think so.

Nobody wants to pay more taxes but when it comes to specific tasks such as fixing water lines, voters also concede that there may not be enough money available.

Overall the poll shows tat environmental issues matter to voters. As a specific aside, in keeping with this year's emphasis on environmental justice, only one quarter of the statewide respondents think that Baltimore should fend on its own (without State help).
  Klaus Philipsen, FAIA