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Pesticide and Climate Bills Pass in MD Legislature, Poultry Manure Act Fails

The Maryland General Assembly session ended at Midnight on Monday with the reading of the traditional Latin words “Sine Die,” meaning literally “without day.”  There is no tomorrow for bills that have not yet passed.

It was, in general, a mixed session for environmental legislation.  If it was a weather report, I’d call it stormy and overcast, with a few dazzling bursts of sun.  

On the positive side, lawmakers passed a bill that makes Maryland the first state to prohibit homeowners from using pesticides linked to the die-off of bees.  And legislators approved a study of oyster populations in the Chesapeake Bay to determine if they are being overharvested.

The General Assembly approved two bills to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.  One bill will require power companies to buy 25 percent of their electricity from solar, wind, and other renewable sources by 2020, up from the current goal of 20 percent by 2022.  And a second bill sets a planning target for the whole state to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2030. Only New York and California have set higher goals.

“This is the first year ever in Maryland that two big climate and energy bills have passed in one year,” said Mike Tidwell, founder of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.  “I think that’s an indication that lawmakers see this as an issue that just continues to rise to the top --the issue of climate change.”

Karla Reattig, executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, said it is politically significant that Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican, has already signed the second of the climate bills. This is at a time when, for many Republicans nationally, rejection of the science of climate change has become a litmus test of conservative credentials – like abortion or gun control.

“I think what it says about Larry Hogan is that he wants to be governor for eight years,” Raettig said.  “He knows that Marylanders are committed to protecting their environment.  And really care about this issue. It always polls very highly.”

On the other hand, Hogan’s environmental record is not all good.  His administration opposed the restrictions on pesticides called neonicitinoids, which have been associated with the deaths of bees and restricted in the European Union.    And Hogan’s Department of Agriculture played a leading role in killing important legislation that would have made poultry companies financially and legally responsible for properly managing the half billion pounds of excess poultry manure every that contributes to pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.

Other environmental bills that failed to pass this year included bills to ban plastic grocery bags, restrict the use of antibiotics on farm animals, and add 5 cent refundable fees to cans on bottles to encourage recycling and reduce litter.  County and city recycling programs opposed the so-called “bottle bill” again this year because they want to keep revenue from glass and aluminum flowing into government coffers instead of the pockets of citizens who would get cash to clean up the streets.

On a final note, lawmakers rejected my personal appeal to make "Chesapeake Born" the new state song, to replace the pro-confederate anthem, "Maryland, My Maryland."  The tune was written in the 1970’s by the great environmentalist, educator and song-writer from Southern Maryland, Tom Wisner.

Shame on you, Democratic Del. Peter Hammen of Baltimore, for blocking a bill to get rid of the confederate lyrics in “Maryland, My Maryland. “Next year, I am going to lobby in the Halls of Annapolis to continue my fight to give Maryland a new state song, “Chesapeake Born,” that honors not hatred and division, but the natural beauty that unifies our state.

(Photo by Lloyd Fox, The Baltimore Sun)

Tom Pelton, a national award-winning environmental journalist, has hosted "The Environment in Focus" since 2007. He also works as director of communications for the Environmental Integrity Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to holding polluters and governments accountable to protect public health. From 1997 until 2008, he was a journalist for The Baltimore Sun, where he was twice named one of the best environmental reporters in America by the Society of Environmental Journalists.