What’s on for the Bay in the GA?

The big three for this year’s session

Now that we know what a polar vortex is, it’s time to move onto the next lesson: polar opposites. On that subject, this year’s General Assembly will teach you all you need to learn. On the big three environmental issues up for debate, one side’s going to be talking from the South Pole, the other from the North. You’ll be in the middle. To help bring you in from the cold, we offer this primer:

1. Stormwater Runoff
    At one pole, call it the south, stormwater runoff is the mess we’re all downstream from.
    At that pole, it all goes back to cleaning up the Bay. Twenty years in with clean up gaining no ground, president Barack Obama’s brought in the feds. “Strengthening stormwater management practices” was one of the means to the end. States got to decide how. In Maryland, the General Assembly wrestled out a plan. In our most populous counties, where development gave stormwater a smooth path to the Bay, we’d all pay a share to fund stormwater management programs. Each of the 10 targeted counties got to make its own rules, with taxes starting at one cent and rising from there.
    At the other pole, call it the north, it all goes back to cutting taxes. At that pole, rain tax has become a buzz word so charged that it could bring down a whole edifice of policy stretching from federal to state, county and city governments. In Anne Arundel, the County Council’s agreed stormwater fee is still under siege, including from both top Republican candidates for county executive. Calvert has no stormwater fee, but Republican delegates Tony O’Donnell and Mark Fisher see one coming. They — and many Anne ­Arundel Republicans in the General Assembly — will join to try to unfund stormwater remediation.
    Redefining the rain tax as good for you and for the Bay tops the environmental agenda.

2. Fracking
    The poles are just as far apart on fracking. On the North Pole, the pro side, it’s the magic wand to open a new American era of energy independence, wealth and plenty. Combined with horizontal drilling, fracking frees natural gas from shale deposits by the injection of an enormously high-pressure solution of water, sand and chemicals. There’s enough frackable natural gas in our nation — 2,203 trillion cubic feet according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration — to satisfy our energy needs for almost a century.
    At the South Pole, environmentalists have three key worries: the vast amounts of water withdrawn from aquafers; the migration of the chemical solution into groundwater; and the unsettling of the land.
    States pioneering fracking — including Texas and Pennsylvania — jumped in before regulations were in place to ensure safety. Maryland wants to get it right before fracking into its portion of the Marcellus shale.
    At a local level, fracking is part of the issue of approving Dominion Resources’ request to liquefy and export American natural gas at its plant and dock at Cove Point in Calvert County.

3. Clean Energy
    Twenty percent renewable energy by 2022. That’s Maryland’s commitment. How to keep that promise will come up again in this year’s General Assembly.
    At the South Pole, wind, solar and geothermal are the infinite, natural answer. That’s not disputed at the North Pole, but practicality is. Can we afford to wait for and invest in technologies not yet ready to go from source to plug? Are wind and solar steady enough to depend on? Should we sacrifice birds to wind? Is black liquid clean fuel?
    With antis preaching the ills of big government, will renewable energies get the incentives they need to proceed?

Join the debate at the General Assembly’s 20th Annual Environmental Legislative Summit: Tuesday January 21 from 4:30 to 6:00pm at Miller Senate Building, Annapolis. Free and all welcome: www.mdlcv.org.