ANNAPOLIS – Maryland’s environment was not lost among this session’s fiscal and education concerns — several key proposals, including legislation protecting sensitive lands expected to become law, won General Assembly approval by Monday’s deadline.
The General Assembly approved an array of legislation ranging from water conservation measures and stricter air pollution enforcement to higher water standards and citizen notification of stored hazardous chemicals.
Environmentalists praised passage of legislation to close loopholes in the critical area law, which limits development along the Chesapeake Bay, and another bill to expand the same protection to the state’s five coastal bays.
“Coastal bays was very big for the environmental community,” said Susan Brown of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters. “It was a huge success for the whole state.”
In the final minutes of the Maryland General Assembly Monday, lawmakers approved the coastal bays bill, which had been subjected to several revisions the week before, including 80 pages of amendments that were eventually cut to about 10.
Assawoman, Isle of Wight, Sinepuxent, Newport and Chincoteague Bays would be covered under the current critical area law, which limits development within 1,000 feet of the Chesapeake Bay, with tighter restrictions within a 100-feet buffer.
Local municipalities would have to develop a plan, which must be approved by the state Critical Areas Commission.
“We worked really hard and hammered this out to a point where everyone can get behind it,” said Delegate Dan Morhaim, D-Baltimore, lead sponsor of the House bill. “This previous resource is now being afforded the first step of protection.”
Lawmakers also clarified and bolstered the current critical area law, whose effectiveness Gov. Parris N. Glendening and environmentalists say was undermined by three recent court decisions.
The law requires landowners wanting to build within the buffer to get a variance from their local board of zoning appeals.
The two bills “enable the state to strengthen protection of the coastal bays and the Chesapeake Bay to ensure Maryland’s unique treasures will be enjoyed by future generations,” said Glendening spokeswoman Michelle Byrnie.
There also were disappointments for environmentalists.
The governor’s proposals to increase fines for water pollution and collect a fee for waste management died in committees, but were referred for studies in the interim session.
Also, a push by Maryland’s farmers to address concerns in carrying out nutrient management plans died on the Senate floor late Monday night.
“Overall, it was a very difficult session, but we’re pleased to see that most of our environmental priorities passed,” said Theresa Pierno of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “I’d have to say it turned out to be a pretty good session for the environment.”
Other successful environmental proposals included:
— A bill requiring large public water systems to establish conservation plans when applying for new or expanded permits.
— Legislation increasing the statute of limitations for violations of air quality laws from one to three years.
— A community right-to-know bill requiring certain facilities to report to the state the amount and toxicity of hazardous chemicals.
— A drinking water standards act allowing the state to establish higher standards than the federal government.
— A bill broadening a citizen’s right to contest air pollution permits issued by the state. -30- CNS-4-9-02