Greens readying 2010 environmental bills
Legislation to focus on transit projects and storm-water fees
With the 2010 General Assembly looming, the top priorities for environmental interests will be transit-oriented projects and creating county fees for storm-water management.
Environmental groups, including the Maryland League of Conservation Voters and Environment Maryland, were slated to hold a preview of green legislative priorities for the upcoming session on Monday at Goucher College in Baltimore.
The program, dubbed "Maryland 2010: Legislation for a Green Economy Protecting Maryland's Water, Land and People," also will be presented on Thursday at the Avalon Theater in Easton. It will feature Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Shari T. Wilson giving an overview of what the state budget could mean for the green agenda.
Lawmakers will wrestle with a $2 billion budget gap when they return to Annapolis in January. The deficit has the potential to "suck a lot of the oxygen out of the room," Maryland LCV Executive Director Cindy Schwartz said.
But legislators can advance environmental goals even while facing the deficit, Schwartz said.
"If all they did was cut spending out of the budget and they forgot that there are other ways to improve the environment, then that would be a huge shame," she said.
Environmental interests will push lawmakers to take a fresh look at transportation funding and are drafting legislation intended to steer more dollars toward transit projects such as the Purple Line, which would link either end of Metrorail's Red Line in Montgomery and Prince George's counties.
The legislation is in reaction to ongoing construction of highway projects such as the Intercounty Connector, an 18-mile toll road that will connect Interstate 370 in Gaithersburg to Route 1 in Laurel, Schwartz said.
"It's really about how money is spent and less about spending more money," she said.
The aim is to develop criteria to promote transit and transit-oriented development projects that meet smart-growth principles, said Brad Heavner, state director for Environment Maryland.
A smart-growth approach seeks to target development around more densely populated areas with access to transit and other amenities, in a quest to reduce sprawl, traffic and pollution.
"Transportation dollars can make those good projects happen," Heavner said.
Environmental advocates are meeting with the state Department of Transportation, local government representatives and developers to work on legislation, he said.
Green interests also plan to revive a bill that would require counties and municipalities to establish a storm-water user charge on impervious surfaces, such as driveways and parking lots. The charge would be a flat fee for homeowners and would be based on the area of paved surface on commercial property.
Jamie B. Raskin (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park sponsored the legislation in the Senate this year and will be the lead sponsor again in 2010, along with Del. Jon S. Cardin (D-Dist. 11) of Owings Mills. In March, the Senate rejected the bill on a 29-18 vote.
"The Chesapeake Bay fund created a user fee for wastewater. This will create a user fee for storm water," said Jen Brock-Cancellieri, Maryland LCV's deputy director.
Storm water presents the greatest source of pollution of the Bay. It is also, "the hardest source to tackle," she said.
In 2002, Montgomery County instituted a $12.75 annual storm-water user fee per home, bringing in about $4 million a year for storm-water projects.
That tax has since grown to $45.50 per year for single-family homes and $15.02 per year per town house.
Rockville, Gaithersburg and Takoma Park residents are exempt from the county fee but pay charges levied by the municipalities, totaling $48 per year in Takoma Park and $61.85 per year in Rockville for single-family homes. Figures for Gaithersburg were unavailable Monday.
Local public works departments estimate a backlog of storm-water management projects that totals about $20 billion statewide, Brock-Cancellieri said.
"The reason to bring it up even in challenging economic times is that's $20 billion that we don't have," she said.