Thursday 14 December 2017

2017 Legislative Priorities in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and West Virginia

(Updated March 10, 2017)

Waterkeepers® Chesapeake and our 19 independent RIVERKEEPER®, SHOREKEEPER®, COASTKEEPER® organizations follow legislation at the local, state and federal level. At the beginning of each year, the legislatures in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia are in session. We are tracking bills in the interest of clean water in order to maintain and restore swimmable, drinkable, fishable waters in the Chesapeake Bay.

As the legislative sessions move along, we may want you to write your legislator to help us support specific bills. Be on the lookout for our legislative Action Alerts or subscribe to your local independent Waterkeeper lists to stay up to date on actions they are supporting.

MARYLAND
The state of Maryland’s General Assembly’s 90 day session meets January 11 to April 10.

  • Fracking ban. The current moratorium on fracking in Maryland will expire October 2017. A bill (Senate Bill 740) to ban fracking in the state of Maryland is working its way through the 2017 Maryland General Assembly. Send an email to your Maryland legislator today and tell them you support #cleanwater and want fracking to stay out of our state. On March 10, the House version of this bill passed in the Maryland General Assembly.

  • Septic regulations. The “On-site Sewage Disposal-Best Available Technology” (House Bill 281) is in the Maryland House of Delegates and is supported by Waterkeepers around the region. In August, Gov. Larry Hogan rolled back state requirements for new construction to use Best Available Technology (BAT) when installing new septic systems.  This legislation would require new construction to use BAT in the Chesapeake Bay and coastal bays watershed (support). 

  • Atrazine study. (Senate Bill 932/House Bill 1204) Atrazine is an herbicide widely used for weed control on farms, lawns, along roadways and golf courses.  It is one of the most commonly detected chemicals in drinking water supplies and has been associated with adverse reproductive effects.  A study would allow Maryland to collect data on usage (support).

  • Polystyrene phase-out bill (Senate Bill 186) would prohibit the use or sale of polystyrene food service products or loose fill packaging. Have you been to a citizen cleanup effort with any Chesapeake Bay Waterkeeper? If you have, you’ve probably bagged quite a few of these pieces, commonly known as styrofoam. The Baltimore Harbor Riverkeeper is working on this legislation to phase it out. With a decomposition rate of over 500 years, this is great news for the Bay, oceans and marine life (support).

  • Clean Water Commerce Act of 2017 (House Bill 417) The bill would take up to $10 million of allocated funding from the Bay Restoration Fund earmarked for specific wastewater improvement projects in urban areas and direct those funds to an undefined trading program, moving pollution around rather than reducing it (oppose).

  • Oysters. Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy is working to ensure that oyster restoration and recovery work in the Chesapeake Bay continues. In 2016, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources halted oyster restoration work in the Tred Avon River, threatening federal funding for the project. While the state eventually allowed the work to continue, there have been ongoing threats to the continuation of oyster recovery work and habitat restoration (House Bill 924).

  • Winter manure application. The Maryland Department of Agriculture recently changed laws that restricted the application of manure and fertilizers in the wintertime when the ground is frozen and plants aren’t taking up as many nutrients. Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy is supporting a restoration of the manure rules (no legislation at this time).

  • For more on Fair Farms, a campaign of Waterkeepers Chesapeake, click here

VIRGINIA

The Commonwealth of Virginia’s legislature is meeting in Richmond for the 45-day session (ended on February 25). 

  • Proper Coal Ash Management. The James River and Potomac River watersheds are home to coal ash ponds adjacent to either the main river or tributaries. Coal ash, a waste product of burning coal for electricity generation, contains arsenic, lead and mercury among other toxics. Several bills introduced in January would have required environmental assessments, water quality monitoring and other specific actions before Dominion Energy could close coal ash repositories. While our Riverkeepers supported some of this legislation, by the time the various bills made it through the process, they were significantly weakened. At this time, the only bill that passed would not require environmental assessments, but would allow Dominion to move coal ash pollutants to a landfill, cap them in place, and other options. Riverkeepers and other advocates are asking Governor Terry McAuliffe to restore the language and not allow Dominion to simply bury these pollutants, but rather monitor the environmental impacts before action is taken. 

  • Protecting Valuable Oyster Reefs. The James River Association is following legislation aimed at helping oyster populations to rebound in the James River and Chesapeake Bay.

    • House Bill 2297 and House Bill 1796 both weaken existing harvest limits and notification requirements for new leases (oppose). Both of these bills passed. If they are not vetoed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe by March 27, 2017, they will become law. 

  • Eminent Domain and Pipelines. Shenandoah Riverkeeper supports the following bills regarding the taking of property and infrastructure requirements around pipeline construction.

    • House Bill 1993 would require the highway authorities to document the condition of highways on the route to approved pipelines and for VDOT to enter an agreement with the company building the pipeline to take responsibility for affected roadways (support). This bill passed. 

    • House Bill 2124 would provide landowners compensation for gas and oil companies who enter privately owned land, $100 each incident (support). This bill failed in committee.             

    • House Bill 927 extends the timeframe for taking legal action on a property seized by eminent domain from 60 to 180 days (support). This bill passed. 

  • Hydraulic Fracturing, or “Fracking.” Shenandoah Riverkeeper and Potomac Riverkeeper are watching House Bill 1678 and House Bill 1679. These two bills would limit disclosure of chemical and ingredient use, including through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, from mining and extraction operations, including hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” Cross-filed with SB 1291 and SB 1292 (oppose). Both of these bills failed. 

  • Anti-SLAPP ProtectionsSenate Bill 1941 would protect Virginians from Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) legal actions. These lawsuits are intended to stymie public input and censor critics. The bill would protect whistleblowers and advocates (support).  This bill passed. 

PENNSYLVANIA
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s legislature meets regularly during the year, January 10 to November 30.

  • Water Usage Fee: Legislators in Pennsylvania are considering several bills to levy water usage fees in order to fund Bay-related projects. The Susquehanna and Delaware River Basin Commission. Senate Bill 1401 and House Bill 2114 would collect revenue from water usage to create a fund to finance Best Management Practices (BMPs). House Bill 908 would conduct a study as to how to best direct funds from any water usage fees (support).

  • Growing Greener 3: Senate Bill 1374 proposes a $315 million annual program for investments in conservation, recreation and preservation projects (support).

  • Lawn Fertilizer Reduction: Senate Bill 563 would reduce the environmental impact of fertilizer applied to turf, lawn, golf courses and athletic fields (support).

  • Clean and Green: House Bill 1447 would amend state law to require those seeking preferential assessments to have submitted manure management, nutrient management and CAFO plans (support).  

WEST VIRGINIA
The state of West Virginia is meeting from January 11 through April 8 for their 60 day session in Charleston.

  • West Virginia’s legislature is adjourned until February 8. No bills are on the roster at this time (Feb. 6, 2017).