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Volume xviii, Issue 3 ~ January 21 - January 27, 2010

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Environmental Matters

Any green bills looking to become law in Maryland must first clear the gavel of Delegate Maggie McIntosh

a Bay Weekly conversation
by editor Sandra Olivetti Martin

If there ought to be a green law, it’s got to get past Maggie McIntosh. Environment, natural resources, agriculture, open spaces, even transportation and housing — all fall under the gavel she wields as chairwoman of Maryland’s House Environmental Matters Committee.

Her already considerable powers could grow. Reliable sources hint that the 62-year-old Baltimore City delegate is being groomed to someday follow the top man in the House of Delegates, Speaker Mike Busch. That would be succession, not rebellion. McIntosh credits Busch as “the man who brought me to the dance.” Busch, in turn, praises his chairwoman for making “Environmental Matters a committee that passes environmental laws — and that didn’t used to be the case.”

Loyalty is a virtue that ranks high for McIntosh. A lot of people helped the Kansan make her way in Maryland when she moved here after graduating from Wichita State University four decades ago. And she helped a lot of people. In summers off from her first job, teaching art in Baltimore public school, she managed the political campaigns of friends. She remembers them all, especially Barbara Mikulski, whose winning U.S. Senate campaign McIntosh managed in 1987.

McIntosh moved into politics herself in 1992, when she was appointed to fill a vacant seat in the House. Hard work and loyalty moved her forward from back-bencher to gatekeeper.

§ § §

Bay Weekly How are you feeling about going back to work this year, when once again you’re going to have to do more with less?

Del. McIntosh I feel good and honored about being here. This session is going to be about trying to help so many families who are fearful and worried about their future. Even if they’ve kept their jobs, so many families, including our state workers, have taken reductions or seen their health care benefits reduced or pensions dwindle.

We’re going to tackle very important issues — about budget, about making sure Maryland families see the state working to create new jobs and opportunity, expand health care and providing the best schools in the country even in this national downturn.

Bay Weekly What have you been doing since last April, when the General Assembly went out of session?

Del. McIntosh There’s no such thing as that part-time legislator anymore. We have committee work from the end of April through the end of the year. My committee had several briefings and hearings, a couple of field trips out to the port of Baltimore to look at our expansion and how it’s doing a lot to protect the environment and restore parts that had been contaminated. So we do work, and our constituents don’t disappear. So I spend a lot of time in committee, going to meetings, going to leaders and constituents on issues of concern to them and answering letters and correspondence [she says, waving the Blackberry she’s been working while we talk].

Bay Weekly Now that you’re back in session, what will your committee be doing?

Del. McIntosh Every bill is read on floor and assigned to committee. Any bill on natural resources, environment, agriculture, real property and land use issue is ‘owned’ by my committee, and we schedule a hearing with public notice so people can come in and testify pro or con. Last year we got 50 more than any other committee, well over 300 bills.

The bills are each assigned to a subcommittee [seven in this case], whose members do a really good job of assessing whether it’s viable and needed, and work with its sponsor to make it better, make amendments, then report it out to the larger committee, and we vote up or down. If up, it goes back to the whole House.

Committees are where we hear the public on bills.

Bay Weekly When citizens come to testify pro or con, what should they do to be best prepared?

Del. McIntosh Have something in writing so that you can leave a paper with your points and suggested changes. That helps the delegate or chair work with their staff to make changes.

Bay Weekly The federal government seems to be calling a lot of shots in Maryland this year:

• First, President Obama’s executive order charging the federal government with leading Bay restoration

• Now EPA has taken over enforcement and threatens consequences for state failure to develop restoration plans and pollution-reduction milestones, and failure to achieve those milestones; and

• The Chesapeake Clean Water and Ecosystem Restoration Act, sponsored by Sen. Ben Cardin and Congressman Elijah Cummings, is further defining just what should be done in Bay restoration, setting state pollution load limits linked to reduction requirements, with deadlines — 2025 — and, for the first time, consequences for failure.

The federal government has the money, too, spending big bucks in stimulus funding in Maryland. Gov. O’Malley has also said the feds need to come up with something like $365 million more for the Bay …

Is that an accurate picture?

Del. McIntosh Yes. I think through the stimulus the federal government helped every one of the states avoid deep, deep cuts in education and health care.

And in the Bay that’s welcome news because this administration very much believes in clean air and climate change as well as our Maryland priority, the Chesapeake. We’ve done a lot in the environment already, with clean car bills in this committee and new emissions standards that mirror California. We were ahead of the game when President Obama came in and said do that across the country. Chuck Fox, who’s very familiar with the issues coming from within our own Maryland Department of Natural Resources [secretary, 2001-’03] will play a very activist role with the Obama administration in addressing issues we have with the Chesapeake and in strengthening our multi-state pacts.

Bay Weekly That being the case, are you expecting to have much work to do in your committee this year?

Del. McIntosh Yeah. Plenty. We’re following several issues to see how they’re going: the water resources element we put in for local governments and municipalities; septic system replacement in critical areas; new regulations on stormwater.

And I do think we’re going to have more discussion about recycling issues and bottle bills.

Plastic bags are absolutely going to come back this year. I think, however, there is sensitivity about increasing any fees or costs right now, when so many Maryland families have not gotten raises or have accepted less money to keep their jobs. So even something I think would be right, say you carry your own bag to the grocery or get charged extra, it’s the wrong time even to do the right thing. But I’m going to let my committee decide.

Bay Weekly Will there be much environmental spending with you and your fellow lawmakers cutting the state budget by $2 billion?

Del. McIntosh Anything that costs money won’t pass. We won’t be creating any new task forces. With state employees being furloughed, losing pay and time, there’ll be no bills that require our departments to make reports that eat up staff time.

Every family in Maryland has had to tighten its belt. We do, too. The governor and legislature has cut $4 billion from state government. This year’s general fund budget is smaller than it was four years ago. That has never happened since the late 1930s.

Bay Weekly Do you imagine Project Open Space, the Bay Restoration Fund (the Flush Tax) and the Chesapeake Bay 2010 Trust, which have special revenue streams of their own, will be diverted?

Del. McIntosh The Flush Tax will stay as it’s supposed to be used: to upgrade wastewater treatment plants and septic systems and help farmers plant cover crops to control pollution. We’re not going to divert it for any other use.

On Open Space, the governor has pledged to keep that money from the real estate transfer tax to purchase open land. Of course the transfer tax is down because of the [depressed] housing market, so we’ve already seen a dramatic drop in our ability to purchase land.

That will be more tempting for the money committees. That will have to be watched. I don’t support diverting Open Space funds to other uses.

Editor’s note: The governor’s proposed budget promises full funding for Project Open Space; for the Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund it includes $20 million — less than the mandated $50 million but more than last year’s $8 million.

Governor Martin O’Malley’s 2010 Energy Agenda focuses on increasing renewable energy production, with legislation to put more clean energy on the grid faster; a regulatory framework for offshore wind energy development. Closer to home, he’s proposing extending both renewable-energy tax credits for businesses and tax credits for families to purchase plug-in electric vehicles as they become commercially available this coming year.

Bay Weekly What are your goals for this session?

Del. McIntosh To take every bill we get in committee and look at it very seriously. To see if we can’t sort through what we can pass and can’t because of [our deficit] and set up a framework for what we can’t do now. So next year we can accomplish more in recycling, more in oyster and crab restoration, better or fully fund the Chesapeake Bay 2010 Trust [funded by rental car and motor fuel tax revenue] and have an impact when times are better.

Bay Weekly How can citizens reach you or your committee?

Del. McIntosh We’re very accessible. Dial 410-841-3000 and ask for any delegate or senator by name or by district. If you want to talk about a bill, ask for the Environmental Matters committee. Leave a detailed message with your name and phone number so we can get back to you.

Or go online at All you have to do is click and email us, and I see it.

If I get 50 calls or emails one way or another on a bill, I pay attention.

What Environmentalists Want in 2010

The Citizen Campaign for the Environment, an alliance of about 30 Maryland environmental groups, is putting its force behind three legislative priorities in this year of no new spending.

1. Protecting the Green Infrastructure Budget

Preserving dedicated funding for Program Open Space, Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund, Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative Program, Bay Restoration Fun and Historic Tax Credit; and preventing more cuts in the budgets of Maryland’s four primary environmental agencies, which have already endured more than three times the average reductions of other state agencies.

2. Watershed Protection and Restoration Act

A proposed new law requiring local governments to charge stormwater user fees (based on impervious surface coverage), to create dedicated accounts to pay for stormwater-related infrastructure repairs, backlogged at $20 billion statewide.

3. Smarter Transportation Choices for Maryland

A package of proposed new legislation to set criteria for state transportation projects; establish regional transportation impact review; create better tracking for transportation funding; and promote bicycle and pedestrian safety.

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