The Maryland Environmental Legislative Summit was buzzing with optimism Tuesday night with the Miller Conference room bursting at the seams. It was beyond standing-room only.
Usually this event is a love fest of sorts with environmentalists detailing their priorities and legislators saying they would try to push this or that bill through the chambers and to the governor’s desk.
But this year, I, for one, walked away with the feeling that something good is really going to happen. Finally.
All the heavy hitters were there—both on the legislative side and on the environmental side. The summit was put on by the Citizens' Campaign for the Environment, a coalition of 23 environmental organizations, and funded by the Abell Foundation.
The session was opened by Citizens’ Campaign for the Environment Chairman Erik Michelsen of the South River Federation. Speakers were introduced by Chris Trumbauer, Anne Arundel County councilman and West/Rhode Riverkeeper.
Both Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr. and Speaker of the House Michael Busch made brief remarks and stressed that the public has to keep the pressure on the delegates and senators to make sure the bills make it through.
The magic numbers to pass bills are 24 votes in the 47-member Senate and 72 votes in the 141-member House.
Miller said it’s not going to be easy to convince all of the senators and delegates to vote in favor of environmental issues. But, he added, “In 2012 the business of the state of Maryland is going to be the environment.”
Busch said citizen activism has to go beyond attending the summit and beyond contacting one’s own legislators. He urged keeping the pressure on those legislators who need to be convinced that voting in favor of environmental issues is the right thing to do.
In very upbeat remarks, Sen. Brian Frosh of Montgomery County, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, opened the session saying the “pave the bay crowd” has launched an all-out attack on the environment and vowed to do all he can to keep them at bay (pun intended).
The environmental community’s priority issues highlighted in the summit handout include:
- Offshore Wind: Good Jobs, Clean Power.
- Reduce Litter, Reuse Your Bags: The Community Cleanup Act.
- Clean Water, Health Families Campaign.
- Protecting the Green Infrastructure Budget (including the Historic Tax Credit, the “flush tax,” and Program Open Space).
- Other bills include pesticide-use policies, a ban on arsenic in chicken feed, funding for the UM Law School’s Environmental Law Clinic, and the Farm to School Program.
There also was an impassioned plea for passage of the offshore wind bill from the point of view of the thousands of jobs construction of the turbines will create, health benefits of reducing the use of fossil fuels (specifically asthma in kids), and stability in power costs to consumers. The speaker was a young representative of the Sierra Club, attorney Christine Hill.
Other speakers included Brent Bolin of the Anacostia Watershed Society, who spoke in favor of the Community Cleanup Act that would reduce the use of plastic bags in the state.
“Over half of the trash found in the Anacostia watershed is made up of plastic bags,” he said, adding that the bill will save money for merchants who must now buy the bags they give away and will provide reusable bags to those who cannot afford them.
Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Joan Carter Conway of Baltimore City spoke as did Dru Schmidt-Perkins of 1000 Friends of Maryland.
One of the priority issues is the “flush tax,” also known as the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund. The buzz in the room indicated it has a very good chance of passing, especially since polls indicate that Marylanders are willing to spend a little more to clean up the waterways.
This will go a long way toward upgrading existing sewage-treatment plants thereby reducing the amount of nitrogen entering our streams and rivers, leading to the notorious “dead zones” that appear in the bay every summer.
“It will complete the job of retrofitting our major wastewater treatment plants,” said Del. Maggie McIntosh of Baltimore, chairman of the Environmental Matters (and a favorite of the crowd). “This session will make a big difference in water quality in Maryland."
And she added, to chuckles in the room, “Is it a tax? Is it a fee? It’s a fee, OK?”
A poll conducted by OpinonWorks in December showed that, “Nearly two thirds (63 percent) of voters would spend more tax dollars to make the waters safe and healthy ‘if state leaders and scientists said more tax dollars were needed.’”
Chesapeake Bay Foundation head Will Baker concluded the session with a humorous pep talk urging everyone to get involved by staying on top of the legislators and showing passion for the issues.
But the most moving speaker of the evening was Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin of the Baltimore Jewish Environmental Network. She began by saying she reports to a higher power and appealed to our better selves to take on the fight for the environment because we need the Earth to nurture us and because we are the Earth’s tenders, not its masters.
Her remarks brought many to their feet.
The summit ended a little bit early this year and many people kept the discussion momentum going at the “after-party” reception for the summit hosted by Green Drinks Annapolis.
The reception, sponsored by the Chesapeake Legal Alliance, provided summit goers a chance to mix and mingle over appetizers and beverages to “Continue the Conversation.”
A good way to follow action on these bills and other environmental initiatives during the legislative session is to subscribe to the Maryland League of Conservation Voters’ email blasts. See www.mdlcv.org.
The closing words of the introductory letter in the summit handout also are a fitting close this blog:
We thank you for your interest in helping to restore and protect Maryland’s natural environment, and the health and quality of life of its communities. We look forward to a productive 2012 General Assembly Session.