ANNAPOLIS – The allocation of the $50 million annual Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund may be left up to Gov. Martin O’Malley’s BayStat program, pending the passage of a Senate bill introduced this week.
The bill, S.B. 213, an administration bill sponsored by nine Democrats, stipulates that the bay clean-up money must be used to reduce non-point-source pollution. This is defined as pollution that cannot be traced to a single source, like a drainage pipe or a power plant.
Legislators and environmentalists agree that targeting this type of pollution is key to bay health, but opinions on how to do this vary. BayStat aims to change that.
BayStat is the latest incarnation of O’Malley’s CitiStat program, which was created during his tenure as mayor of Baltimore. The “Stat” systems promote accountability among state agencies by regularly holding meetings between agency heads and the governor to check progress on goals.
The bill puts the BayStat subcommittee — made up of the secretaries of agriculture, the environment, natural resources and planning, as well as the president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science — in control of funding uses. It is the first bill detailing the allocation of the trust fund money since a House bill was rejected in the November special session.
Giving the money to state agencies to allocate breaks no new ground, said Robert Summers, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment. But bringing them together to do it collaboratively does, he said.
“The restoration of the Chesapeake Bay is really a multi-dimensional, multi-agency action that we need to take,” said Summers. “This legislation really just formalizes the BayStat process for the trust fund, and all of the Cabinet secretaries and their staff who work on these issues meet on a regular basis, compare the goals of the different agencies, track progress, and hold each other accountable for the process and implementation. And all of this is presided over by the governor and his staff.”
The new bill also introduces the idea of a competitive grant process, where local governments, schools or non-profits would compete for trust fund money to implement pollution reduction plans locally.
“A local government — a county, for example — might come in and say, ‘OK, we want to do this storm water treatment project, and the county’s prepared to pay 50 percent of the cost,'” said Summers. “So right away the cost for the state is cut in half. It’s a great way to leverage state money and make state money go farther.”
This type of cost-sharing grant program is common within state agencies, Summers said.
Environmentalists are optimistic about the bill, although some concerns remain.
“In and of itself, it’s a good thing,” said Kim Coble, Maryland Executive Director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, of the collaborative structure outlined in the bill. “On one side of the coin, we’re very pleased to see that BayStat will be developing a work plan to dictate how this money is spent. But on the other side of the coin, we do need to ensure, and to have infrastructure to ensure, that we’re meeting the goals of the bill.”