April 13, 2010
In Toughest Times Bay Funding Defended
Funding Doubled for Key Pollution Reduction Program
(ANNAPOLIS, MD)—The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) today declared the 2010 session of the Maryland General Assembly a success in terms of the organization's chief priority this year: protecting Bay restoration funding from further cuts. After intense lobbying from CBF and other groups the legislature reversed itself in the final leg of the session, and doubled appropriations compared to last year's spending and original allocations for one critical Bay program.
CBF and its partners also defended against potentially devastating efforts to roll back environmental regulations.
"Recognizing that the 2010 Session was going to be dominated by the challenging economic situation facing Maryland, CBF focused on protecting the environmental budget and ensuring that poor economic times were not used as an excuse to move backwards on environmental policies," said Kim Coble, Maryland executive director for CBF. "The General Assembly and Governor O'Malley showed that one does not have to choose between the environment or the economy. Sound environmental policies go hand-in-glove with a strong economy."
After intense lobbying from CBF and other environmental groups, the legislature appropriated $22.5 million to the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays 2010 Trust Fund, more than twice the amount it appropriated last year. The amount exceeded Governor O'Malley's initially request which was itself strong at a time when all state programs faced budget cuts. The Trust Fund, which attacks stormwater and farm pollution, is a critical tool in Maryland's plans for restoring the Bay. Contractors who hire employees based on Trust Fund spending testified before lawmakers, and helped convince them such programs boost the state's economy.
On other budget issues, the legislature fully funded Program Open Space, after initially threatening to cut the land conservation program. Having these funds restored will protect 5,000 acres across the state, much of those in working lands, thereby also supporting jobs and Maryland families. CBF also was pleased that funding for state agencies was left largely intact by lawmakers. CBF and its partners defeated proposals for substantial reductions, although some agencies were hit with small reductions.
On issues other than the budget, the Bay also came out ahead in the long term.
A legislative committee that oversees regulations approved stormwater regulations that were amended to give builders some initial increased flexibility. CBF and other environment groups helped negotiate the amendments. CBF stands firmly behind that strategic decision because of two very important facts: The higher standards builders must meet for treating stormwater were not changed in the amended regulations. Also CBF managed to negotiate some improvements to the regulations. Lastly, the politics of the 2010 General Assembly were such that a complete rollback of the regulations was possible if we didn't negotiate.
CBF and its partners also defeated attempts to substantially weaken Governor O'Malley's proposed new oyster restoration plan. Included in the plan is a significant increase in the area of productive oyster beds to be set aside as sanctuaries. These will provide more habitat for fish, help improve water quality, and provide protected populations of oysters. The sanctuary plan came under legislative attack this session.
Other notable successes in the 2010 session included:
- Sustainable Communities—The Administration introduced a bill to establish the Sustainable Communities tax credit. Its primary objective is to support existing communities as desirable places to live and work and to reduce outward pressure for sprawl development. CBF supported this bill and we are pleased it passed.
- Conservation Corps—The General Assembly approved bi-partisan legislation to create the Chesapeake Conservation Corps, a priority of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. The bill will allow young adults to undertake a variety of critical Bay restoration and energy conservation projects.