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Maryland’s ‘Water Quality Trading’ program is a sham. Can it be fixed?

Written by Ben Alexandro, Water Policy Director

The Hogan administration is using a complicated ‘water quality trading’ program to let Maryland counties pollute more than they are permitted to.

For years the Hogan administration has been touting nutrient trading as a new market-based strategy that could help save the Chesapeake Bay. The administration said it would spur innovation like never before and be the new ingredient in the bay restoration plan that finally uses efficient and smart investments. The assertion is that this will lead to great new projects and filtering practices to save the Bay. Unfortunately, that is not at all how it is being used today.

Please let me explain: The most urban areas of Maryland now have expiring Clean Water Act permits which are supposed to require the treatment of pollution coming off of urban areas by the equivalent of restoring 20% of urban land surface to forest.  While some counties like Carroll were able to meet their goal legitimately, other counties like Baltimore (who got rid of their polluted runoff fee that financed their improvement projects and as a result cancelled a bunch of real projects in the works) couldn’t meet their goal. It is true that the requirements under the last permits were very ambitious.  But now, rather than the state issuing violations or legal settlements like they did for Montgomery County, Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) is letting other counties quietly turn to ‘nutrient trading’ to magically smooth things over, in many cases, for free without actual reductions in pollution.

A False Fantasy:

As one of the authors of the Environmental Finance Center’s Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay Restoration Financing Strategy Final Report I am not usually an opponent of nutrient trading. In theory the idea is to create a ‘cap and trade’ program where you use the cap on how much an entity can pollute.  Then let them buy ‘credits’ created by separate pollution reduction projects offsite. The idea is through a competitive market for credits, Maryland can reduce more pollution for less cost. Currently, the most urban counties in Maryland have a federally mandated Clean Water Act permits that say how much polluted runoff must be reduced before the permit expires. MDE has already allowed Anne Arundel, Baltimore, and Prince George’s Counties to amend their expired permits meant to reduce polluted runoff to allow the county governments to ‘trade credits’ instead of reducing pollution themselves. MDE released that it will allow Harford County, Frederick County, and the State Highway Administrations to amend their permits as well.

If functioning correctly, county governments, and other buyers, will invest money to incentivize creating new and more effective pollution reduction practices. The idea is that if there was a market for pollution reduction, a farmer doing something like planting forests near a stream could reduce twice the pollution for half the cost that a town or city could from ripping up concrete and asphalt to plant trees in the urban area.  So why not let the county pay the farmer to reduce pollution upstream and get more bang for your buck?

Critics might point out that a faulty trading program can lead to real world injustices. For example, a trading program done incorrectly could lead to pollution hotspots often in communities of color and underserved areas, which is simply racial and environmental injustice. Often low-income areas feel the most negative effects of concentrated pollution because polluters in those areas are the ones who buy ‘credits’ from elsewhere instead of cleaning up onsite. Critics also point out sloppy verification and enforcement issues in the trading regulations and that the MDE is chronically understaffed- potentially too understaffed to properly administer and police the program.  The Choose Clean Water Coalition, a coalition of over 230 organizations working towards clean water and a clean Chesapeake Bay do not have an official policy supporting nutrient trading. However, if trading is to occur, the Coalition attests these Twelve Principles are essential to ensure water quality is protected. While pollution hotspots, counterfeit credits, etc. are often issues in a poorly managed trading program, I think if MDE increases staff, follows these twelve principles and becomes truly committed to creating a well-regulated trading market with strong protections, these issues could be avoided and the administration’s dream of free markets incentivizing pollution reductions could be a reality.

The way the administration is running the program this far is poor to say the least. So far it seems to be simply a way to ‘cook the books’ and make it look like counties are reducing more pollution than they actually are. It is a convoluted way to let counties off the hook.

How is MDE letting counties off the hook?

With any new complex market-based initiative, the devil is in the details. Our devil: wastewater treatment plants. On all of Maryland’s water bills, there is a fee for the ‘BRF’- Bay Restoration Fund.  This money goes towards upgrading Maryland’s wastewater treatment plants in order to decrease the amount of pollution that enters our waters. Waste water treatment plants have made the water coming out of them cleaner thanks to these taxpayer funds. Now the state is saying plants upgraded using taxpayer money can be a part of the nutrient trading program by trading credits to Maryland counties. And because of where the state set the baseline to be able to generate credits, many wastewater plants owned by the counties can essentially give a county all the credit for nutrient trading they would ever need without doing anything new at all to actually reduce any more pollution. For example, Anne Arundel county’s wastewater treatment plant is able to suddenly create enough credits equal to the county converting over 4,000 acres of polluting industrial parking lots and other polluting land cover to forests. By using average flow numbers for 2019, I calculated that together the waste water treatment plants in Maryland could trade away over 500,000 pounds worth of credits potentially for free. That is more credits than every single permit in the state would need combined.

Because of this loophole, most county owned sewage treatment plants have not invested a single dollar in pollution reduction projects, but may still get credits to sell in the nutrient trading program for reducing tens of thousands of pounds of nutrient pollution. If you really want to know how successful a program is, follow the money. If no money is invested, it means that there are no real new projects going into effect because of this program. If the counties are just doing a paper exercise, the price of a credit is effectively zero dollars. The price needs to be high enough to encourage farmers and others to put in place real practices above what they would already be doing. The trading program is also not incentivizing waste water treatment plants to create better pollution removal systems. They are generating credits based on money already invested years ago by you, the taxpayer. Right now, zero innovations are being funded through trading, and the market is in danger of crashing.

Confusing? That might be the point-

The whole system is incredibly complex and hard to follow.  I didn’t even go into detail about how the nitrogen parts per million baselines at the wastewater treatment plants further complicates this issue or how permits are actually based on percentage of impervious area treated instead of each pollutant directly, etc. I think that right now, nutrient trading is a purposely complex way to make it look like the counties are doing far better at reducing pollution then they really are.

Why would the Hogan Administration do this? 

We can agree that the trading program is complex and hard for the average Marylander to follow and understand. The Clean Water Act permits built to ensure counties reduce their polluted runoff are complicated too. Sound science-based policy often is complicated because the science behind it is complicated. A much simpler concept is a misleading term like the ‘Rain Tax.’ ‘Rain Tax’ was a rallying cry for this administration in the first election- they claimed that we could easily reduce the pollution we need to without counties using dedicated fees and funding that would pay for pollution-reducing projects. Saying that all the counties are doing great at reducing all the pollution they needed to without having to resort to polluted runoff fees, or as the administration called it in their empty political sloganeering, the ‘rain tax,’ is cheap, easy, and politically appealing.  In some ways it is smart- make the problem so complex that getting folks to understand the problem let alone rallying people to fight it requires advanced degrees years of environmental policy experience. But Maryland deserves better. And we will need to do much better at controlling urban runoff as climate change continues to create more frequent and dangerous flood events. Now is not the time for political gimmicks.

Can the trading program be fixed?

I believe MDE could fix it. MDE has claimed verbally in meetings that trades with waste water treatment plants are temporary and can only be used to buy the counties time.  MDE claims that counties will have to make up the pollution reduction with real projects in the next permit in addition to new levels of pollution reduction. However, we see no indication of this commitment in their written Watershed Implementation Plans they had to submit to the EPA earlier this summer or in the legally binding permits. We see some counties like Anne Arundel planning in their budgets to put in real projects later to make up for it and just ‘trading in time’ as they call it do buy them time, but others like Harford County are not planning on making up the gap with real projects budgeted in the future.

Without a clear indication of what is coming in the next permit, supposedly coming out at the end of the year, it is hard, if not impossible, for counties to properly budget funds for pollution-reducing projects. None of the county budgets indicate that they expect they will need to spend real money in the future to buy real credits. Meanwhile, some counties are seeing this as an opportunity to cut budgets. For example, Frederick County has cut their budget for projects by $2 million and Montgomery County slashed theirs even further.

The Hogan administration needs to make it clear that this type of trading for free with their own wastewater treatment plants will not stand. MDE needs to clearly show it is not weakening clean water permits with loopholes. Trading needs to be for real new projects and include practices that effectively reduce pollution. MDE needs to make a commitment that it will create a real demand-driven, closely regulated market that incentivizes new and innovative projects, or they need to shut the program down.

The frustrating part is that I still believe that if the state closed these loopholes, followed the Choose Clean Water Twelve Principles, and truly committed to the ideas behind the program, it really could be the market-based solution to efficiently reduce tens of thousands of pounds of pollution going into the Bay that we want it to be.  MDE could still fix this program.

It is not my goal to criticize MDE for trying a creative new program, but I have given the program every benefit of the doubt. I have worked closely with MDE for months and testified at MDE hearings multiple times to air my concerns. While trading has improved in some areas, the fundamental flaws remain. If MDE truly wants to let counties off the hook on their commitment to reduce pollution, that is their purgative, (and we will continue to expose them for that) but why must the dream of the trading program be a casualty?  Allowing free trading of already completed upgrades to waste water treatment plants makes the program into what its worst critics have been claiming it was all along – A dangerous sham that will let polluters in Maryland continue to dirty our waters.

Do you agree? Then send a comment into MDE.  Details on how to comment here:  https://mde.maryland.gov/programs/Water/StormwaterManagementProgram/Pages/storm_gen_permit.aspx

By |2020-01-11T18:10:33-05:00September 25th, 2019|Categories: Education Fund|Comments Off on Maryland’s ‘Water Quality Trading’ program is a sham. Can it be fixed?

Great news! Our 2019 John V. Kabler Awardee is Announced!

Maryland League of Conservation Voters is pleased to announce that Robert P. Gallagher is this year’s John V. Kabler Memorial Award winner. 

Bob is an outstanding advocate on environmental issues in Maryland and Anne Arundel County, and co-founder of the Anne Arundel Chapter of Maryland LCV.

Bob developed his life-long passion for clean water at an early age while exploring in boats. He has sailed all over the Chesapeake as well as across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. When he retired from a legal career 15 years ago, he founded West/Rhode Riverkeeper and went on to leadership roles in a long list of other local and statewide environmental groups including Waterkeepers Chesapeake, Scenic Rivers Land Trust, Annapolis Green, Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition, Delmarva Land and Litter Challenge, and served from 2009 until 2018 on the board of Maryland League of Conservation Voters.  

In 2009, with the late Kincey Potter, Bob co-founded the Anne Arundel Chapter of Maryland LCV to bring the same accountability to elected county officials that Maryland LCV has brought to Maryland state elected officials. By every measure that effort proved successful.

“Bob’s devotion to the health of the Chesapeake Bay, its watershed and its residents began in his youth in the waters off St. Mary’s County and continues today on both the Western and Eastern Shores of our beloved estuary,” remarked Charles Porcari, Interim Director of Maryland League of Conservation Voters (LCV).  

“His countless hours of service to a remarkable array of environmental organizations offer irrefutable testimony to this lawyers’ volunteer efforts.”

Following the 2018 elections, LCV endorsed candidates who now occupy the office of the County Executive and five of the seven seats on the County Council. The group’s work also sparked Maryland LCV’s work in other strategically selected local elections. In the spirit of John Kabler, Bob has demonstrated that you don’t need to be a lobbyist, CEO, or politician to affect environmental policy. Bob and his wife Cate reside in Annapolis.

The Kabler Award will be officially presented to Mr. Gallagher during the annual Maryland LCV Environmental Leadership Awards Dinner on Thursday, October 24 at the Westin Annapolis, beginning at 6:00 in the evening.

We hope you will join us for this celebration of our environmental achievements and a robust discussion of the work ahead. Other 2019 awardees include Climate Champion Senator Brian Feldman and Legislators of the year, Senator Cheryl Kagan and Delegate Brooke Lierman.

The post Great news! Our 2019 John V. Kabler Awardee is Announced! appeared first on Maryland League of Conservation Voters.

By |2019-09-24T19:00:00-04:00September 24th, 2019|Categories: MDLCV|Comments Off on Great news! Our 2019 John V. Kabler Awardee is Announced!

Introducing our New Executive Director, Kim Coble

We are thrilled to announce that Kim Coble, one of Maryland’s most respected environmentalists, will be the new executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters Education Fund. She will assume her new duties on October 15th.

Kim was the unanimous choice of our selection committee which has spent the last few weeks vetting and interviewing an amazing selection of outstanding candidates. In the end, we felt that Kim’s breadth of experience, significant management skills and inspiring vision for the organization made her an ideal candidate. We are thrilled to have her lead the organization as we seek to build on recent legislative triumphs and elevate Maryland to being a top-tier state in the effort to combat the climate crisis.

Many of you are very familiar with Kim’s important work in the environment space.

Most recently, Kim served as the Chief Operating Officer at US SIF: The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment. US SIF is a non-profit whose mission is to rapidly shift investment practices towards sustainability, focusing on long term investment and the generation of positive social and environmental impacts. In her role as COO, she oversaw the organization’s operations and helped develop its three-year strategic plan.

Prior to her role at US SIF, Kim worked at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, including eight years as the Maryland Executive Director and then six years as Vice President of Environmental Protection and Restoration where she oversaw CBF’s policy, outreach and restoration work throughout the watershed. Kim was selected as one of Maryland’s Top 100 Women in 2015, appointed as an Admiral of the Chesapeake Bay, served as the Valedictorian of her Leadership Maryland class and has been a member of the State Ethics Commission since 2015.

Please join us on October 24th to celebrate Maryland LCV Education Fund and to welcome Kim aboard.

By |2020-02-20T07:11:02-05:00September 19th, 2019|Categories: Education Fund|Comments Off on Introducing our New Executive Director, Kim Coble

Maryland’s Bay Clean Up Plan Lags Behind

By Ben Alexandro, Water Program Director and Katlyn Schmitt of WaterKeepers Chesapeake

Published on Maryland Matters on September 10, 2019

The Chesapeake Bay states recently released their final Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs), which are federally required to demonstrate how each state will meet its clean water commitments for restoring the Bay by 2025.

The multi-state clean-up effort, officially known as the Chesapeake Bay TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load), was a response to the Bay’s steady decline in health almost a decade ago — with widespread dead zones and a steep decline in fish and shellfish populations. The Bay’s poor health at the time was a result of about three decades’ worth of voluntary agreements that were not adequately enforced or implemented by Bay states.

Now, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan  is calling on Pennsylvania to step up its cleanup efforts. And while we commend Governor Hogan for holding other states accountable, Maryland’s own plan is far from perfect.

In fact, Maryland lags far behind Virginia and the District of Columbia in progress toward reducing nitrogen pollution. Maryland’s plan claims it will exceed its 2025 target but it gives few details on what the state will change in order to get there, especially given the all-time low level of staffing at state agencies.

In the past decade, we’ve seen encouraging signs that the Bay is recovering, including an increase in blue crabs and aquatic grasses. But the states must ramp up this work through 2025 and beyond so we don’t lose the progress we’ve made under the Chesapeake Bay TMDL so far.

For a reminder of how fragile the recovery is, look at the massive dead zones plaguing the Bay this year,  the result both of flagging progress by key states and the more frequent, intense rainfalls climate scientists have been warning would afflict our region.

While Maryland has more ambitious goals than Pennsylvania overall, it offers few details on how it expects to increase the rate of the state’s cleanup by six times the current efforts. Maryland’s plan primarily outlines programs and plans already in place and offers little new in programs or funding.

In fact, the plan claims the state has enough funding already — despite the fact that, for the past two years, Maryland counties and dozens of nonprofit organizations have been telling the Maryland Department of the Environment they need more funding, capacity, and technical assistance to be successful. The plan also admits population growth, forest loss, and climate change are challenges that it does not have additional capacity to address.

By 2025, climate change impacts in Maryland are expected to dump more than 2.2 million pounds of nitrogen and 114,000 pounds of phosphorus in the Bay. Maryland committed to drafting another plan in 2022 to address this additional pollution, but that only gives Maryland three years to reduce the expected pollution. Virginia specifically adjusted its pollution reduction targets to account for additional pollution from climate change; Maryland should have done the same.

Maryland’s plan also lags behind Virginia when it comes to incentivizing permanent practices on agricultural land, such as stream reforestation, wetland restoration, and grazing conservation. Forest buffers are one of the most effective ways to prevent nitrogen pollution from entering local waterways, but Maryland only expects to have about one-fifth of the forest buffers for which Virginia has planned.

Maryland has ambitious targets for agriculture pollution reduction, but it focuses too much on funding temporary, annual practices, like cover crops. Only permanent practices would ensure that agricultural pollution remain low after 2025.

To achieve the 2025 goals, the Chesapeake Bay not only needs results from each state, there must also be a clear plan with the necessary resources, regulations, and assistance. But while Maryland included statewide pollution reduction targets for each sector, it did not include any local numeric county-level planning targets that would create clear lines of accountability and transparency. Pollution projections for counties are useful but do not provide clear targets with clear plans to produce clear results.

We’re glad Maryland has committed to its 2025 goals, but it needs to show how it will provide the necessary funding and capacity currently lacking. It’s time Maryland got serious about its clean-up plans and stop pushing the hard work down the road. With increasing extreme weather events and rising sea levels, we don’t have time to waste.

The post Maryland’s Bay Clean Up Plan Lags Behind appeared first on Maryland League of Conservation Voters.

By |2019-09-09T19:00:00-04:00September 9th, 2019|Categories: MDLCV|Comments Off on Maryland’s Bay Clean Up Plan Lags Behind

Remembering Kim Lamphier

Written By Kristen Harbeson

There is an ecology to Annapolis; to the people who move through the halls of the office buildings, who are on Lawyers Mall, who move through the hearing rooms, legislative offices, and reception rooms.  Every departure changes the ecosystem, and never more cruelly than through illness and death. Maryland has lost a tremendous advocate, and her absence will be felt by everyone in the environmental community. 

Kim Lamphier died on Friday, August 30th after a year-long struggle with cancer, which took a sudden and fierce turn for the worse in the last weeks. 

Over the years, Kim worked on issues relating to small businesses, bicycle safety, wildlife protection, criminal justice reform and promoting youth participation in government. She worked on the campaigns of some of Maryland’s luminary political figures at all levels of government. In her last year, in her roles with Trash Free Maryland and Bike Maryland, she was the principal advocate for two major legislative victories – the first statewide Styrofoam ban in the country and a bill that guarantees funding for Maryland’s Bikeways Network program. She worked to secure these victories, even as she was recovering from three months of intensive chemotherapy treatment and post-surgery physical therapy. She was an indomitable force.  

Kim took pride in her work as an effective advocate, but also found joy in the work.  She celebrated the victories of her friends and colleagues as much as her own, and her friends and colleagues were legion.  Kim knew everyone, and everyone she met became her friend. The ecology of Annapolis can seem like a jungle, but Kim always made us remember that even as we fight for survival, the jungle can be fun.

When the Statewide Styrofoam ban goes into effect next year, remember and celebrate Kim Lamphier.

When you are enjoying the pedestrian and bike infrastructure in Maryland, remember and celebrate Kim Lamphier.

She was a dedicated friend to Maryland LCV and its staff.  We will miss her, even as we continue her work.

The post Remembering Kim Lamphier appeared first on Maryland League of Conservation Voters.

By |2019-09-02T19:00:00-04:00September 2nd, 2019|Categories: MDLCV|Comments Off on Remembering Kim Lamphier

Calling all local Environmental Heroes!

By Chuck Porcari, Interim Executive Director

Do you know a local Maryland Environmental Hero?

Once again, we will be honoring visionary work as we present our annual President Theodore Roosevelt Award! If a group or individual you know is doing great things to protect Maryland’s communities and natural places, with an eye towards both today and the future, please make sure you nominate them.

Formally, the award criteria states; “In recognition of the individual, group or organization whom through a specific action, event or body of work will leave a positive conservation legacy that mirrors the ethos of President Theodore R. Roosevelt.”

The winner will be recognized at a formal, public event hosted by the Maryland League of Conservation Voters Education Fund.

We encourage you to scour your areas of interest for worthy individuals, groups or formal organizations that you believe reflect this positive conservation ethos.

Deadline for submission is September 30, 2019. Nominate an Environmental Hero here.

Thank you in advance for your efforts,

Chuck Porcari, Interim Executive Director

Previous Winners:

The 2017 Awardee was Emmitsburg Mayor Donald N. Briggs. Check out the blog post here.

2018 Awardee was Salisbury Mayor Jake Day. Check out the blog post here.

By |2019-12-19T04:25:51-05:00August 26th, 2019|Categories: Education Fund|Comments Off on Calling all local Environmental Heroes!

May the Forest Be With Us!

By Ben Alexandro, Water Policy Advocate

This legislative session, we saw huge wins in Maryland for the environment. We banned Styrofoam take out containers, paved a path for Maryland to produce 100 percent renewable energy by 2040, and protected oyster sanctuaries. But while these grabbed headlines, the two bills I am the most proud of are two small forest bills that you might not have even heard of. One provides for a study of forest loss in Maryland and the other fixes a loophole in Maryland’s Forest Conservation Act. Why are these so important to me? They hit close to home.

Seeing the forest for the trees

I’ve always loved the view from my bedroom – just over the property line is a tiny forest of glittering green leaves and bouncing squirrels that saved me from peering into the rowhomes behind mine. I was looking forward to teaching my new son the names of the birds flitting among the branches as my dad taught me. I’ll always remember the moments trimming back the invasive English ivy lapping up the sides of the trees with my dad as we talked about being a good man, the future, and nothing at all. In a few short years I could start to teach my son about this little patch of nature that gives us so much: air to breathe, water to drink, shade in the summer, and protection from floods. But one spring day last year, ironically while I was researching forest policy for work, I heard the buzz of a chainsaw and saw my favorite blue jay fly frantically from her nest as one tree top after another disappeared from my window view. Within minutes, I could see through the last few trees to realize just how close the neighbors live to me.

I went out and asked the tree crew why they were taking down my little forest. They said someone at the HOA said it looked overgrown. The HOA later said that they did not think the trees needed to be removed, but by then it was too late. It might just be coincidence, but soon after the trees which drank so much water came down, my basement started having new flooding and mold issues. Meanwhile, two blocks away where I used to jog, dozens of acres of forests were being plowed down for a new development. Soon after the local forest was paved over, our neighborhood was plagued with rats, potentially fleeing from the felled forests with nowhere else to go. More forests were coming down on the surrounding roads to make room for new gas stations. As the developments rose, so did the congestion, and now I wait in 45 minutes of traffic on my way home on a once beautiful country road. My little wooded corner of Maryland is changing fast, and I was learning that my story in my town of Crofton was not unique.

When we see forests come down in our neighborhoods, many of us think the same things- Did they have to take down this forest? Were the developers trying to protect as much of the forest as they could? Are trees at least being replanted somewhere else? At Maryland LCV, I often get voters calling us to ask these questions. Unfortunately, when investigating each incident, I usually hit one wall after another. The more I investigate deforestation in Maryland, the more frustrating and complicated it seems.

The Forest Conservation Act falls short

For years, Maryland has had a landmark Forest Conservation Act and a ‘no net loss of forest’ goal on the books. Under the Forest Conservation Act, developers are supposed to have a forest conservation plan and at least protect or replant an acre for every four they chop down where possible. If they cannot replant or retain forests themselves, they have to pay their county government a ‘fee-in-lieu’ to replant or protect forests elsewhere. The ‘no net loss’ goal is supposed to keep the level of forested land in Maryland at 40 percent across the whole state. However, there are a lot of loopholes and problems with how the laws are working. 

The Forest Conservation Act is not functioning as it should. According to a study by the University of Maryland, our oldest, most contiguous, and highest quality forests are the least protected by the Forest Conservation Act. I talked to several county foresters and planners who also are frustrated with the current program. For example, developers must only maintain the forest for a few short years, then there is often nothing stopping vines or other invaders from choking out the forest. There is also almost no transparency required in the system. Some counties proactively have more stringent local ordinances, but in many counties, it is nearly impossible to see the forest conservation plan that developers are supposed to have or even to learn how the counties are using these forest funds they have been collecting. In some counties, literally millions of dollars have piled up in funds from developers preferring to pay fee-in-lieu rather than try to build around trees. In some cases, there are hardly any real county plans to use the money to replant or protect forests at all. In some cases, developers have been able to pay far less than what it costs to plant or protect a forest in that county. There was even a scandal where my previous county executive allegedly gave a huge amount of money meant to protect hundreds or thousands of acres to a personal friend for a small plot of land called Turtle Run.

Hogan’s ‘no net loss’ loophole

The Hogan administration has also exploited a loophole in the ‘no net loss’ of forest law to count every single area with a tree as a forest- even a single tree in a box in the middle of a parking lot could be counted as a forest. By counting tree canopy including every street tree as a forest, suddenly Maryland is 10% above its 40% forest cover goal and the administration said there is no problem and nothing to worry about. For years, the Hogan administration has claimed that we don’t have enough data to prove we are losing forests and there is no way of knowing where the problem is coming from or the best way to solve it. 

Real forest loss

The truth is Maryland is constantly losing forests. According to the best available computer models at the Chesapeake Bay Program, we are losing on average a dozen acres of forests a day in Maryland and could lose 34,000 or more more by 2025. The individual county Forest Conservation Act annual reports only capture a small fraction of this loss, but even these incomplete plans show that developers removed a net of 17,168 acres from 2008 to 2016 without replanting them. 

Fighting for the Forests

I was angry, and I was not alone. In fact, independent polling this year shows support among Maryland’s voters for saving forests and protecting trees. 84% of Marylander’s think it is important to save Maryland’s forests even if a development project must move or cost more. Marylander’s have had enough.

More and more nonprofits around Maryland were becoming concerned about this forest loss. By partnering with Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and Choose Clean Water Coalition, we organized dozens of organizations and over 100 grassroots organizers meeting regularly to strategize and share knowledge. It was time to change some laws. This legislative session, Elaine Lutz at CBF tirelessly led advocacy efforts every day in the halls of Annapolis, met with legislators and kept everyone up to date on the constant shifts and maneuvering through the State House. We had thousands of people sign petitions, call and email their elected officials, and many even came to Annapolis to talk to their legislators face to face. In fact, last year several officials noted they got more calls about forest conservation than any other issue. Not just traditional environmental organizations like Audubon Naturalist Society and Arundel Rivers Federation were fired up, but the faith community was incredibly active and effective as well thanks to the expert leadership of Jodi Rose at Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake. Different organizations and activists each had a key role to play. Choose Clean Water Coalition was also very useful in providing media and communications assistance throughout the process. I was honored to be able to help coordinate the efforts and add a bit of my own flair. As a true geek and Star Wars fan, I decided to end every meeting, call and email with a simple uplifting message: May the Forest be With Us!

The Developers Strike Back

There was enormous pressure on legislators from the big money developer lobby to stop substantive forest legislation. This lobby stops forest legislation year after year, and this year killed the bill to fix the ‘no net loss’ loophole. These lobbyists confused elected officials with falsehoods and misconstrued data, and they reminded legislators just how much money this lobby puts into their campaigns. 

Our Work Pays Off!

Despite the big money, we emerged victorious last month in two of our three forest bills. HB272/SB234 finally fixes the fee-in-lieu system. Now a county can only accept the money from a developer if the county has a plan for how to use it. The counties will have to make their deals much more transparent and publish a public plan every year. This bill was passed with near unanimous vote and supported by the Maryland Association of Counties. Finally, we should start seeing real forests being replanted and protected as the Forest Conservation Act should have been doing all along.

The second bill, HB735/SB729, commissions a study to finally settle the debate on forests. The nonpartisan Hughes Center for Agroecology will look at how much forest we are really losing, determine the root causes of the losses, and explore ways we can fix the problem. The center will clear the issue of street trees vs. forests and better assess where we want to focus development vs. where we want to protect forests. Most importantly, elected officials who get huge donations from the developer lobby will not be able to hide behind their supposed confusion of the facts around forest loss.

These two bills are not the end but rather the beginning. The coalition we built can now move towards more and better forest policies in years to come- to better create local ordinances in key counties and major state level forest reform as early as 2020. We will be more thoughtful as we decide which forests to remove as we protect our best forests and plan for smarter development. These bills are about to go into effect, and someday soon I hope fewer people will wonder why a forest needlessly came down.  Fewer trees will be chopped down and fewer forests will be lost.

May the Forest Be With Us!

Ben Alexandro, Maryland League of Conservation Voters

The post May the Forest Be With Us! appeared first on Maryland League of Conservation Voters.

By |2019-07-16T19:00:00-04:00July 16th, 2019|Categories: MDLCV|Comments Off on May the Forest Be With Us!

We're Looking for Fall Interns!


Maryland LCV and LCV Education Fund are Maryland’s leading statewide environmental advocacy organizations. We work in Annapolis to pass pro-conservation legislation and engage conservation minded voters on Election Day and beyond to hold elected officials accountable.
These unpaid internships start on a rolling basis and last at least 10 weeks. The internship can be 10-40 hours a week depending on the position and applicant availability. Occasional trips to Annapolis may be required. Interns must have reliable transportation and access to the internet and attend all three seminars.
Interns must also be comfortable talking on the phone. Some evening and weekend hours are required to attend/ staff events. Candidate must have strong writing skills and ability to work independently.
To apply, please send cover letter and resume to Ben Alexandro at info@mdlcv.org
Legislative- Annapolis – with remote work
– Reports to the Political Director
– Participate in legislative work
– Assist in coalition meetings, and events
– Research legislators, and environmental issues
Fundraising Research & Writing– Baltimore/ Annapolis
– Reports to the Development Director
– Research donors and foundations
– Helps develop written materials including grants
Skills required: detail oriented, experience with Microsoft Excel and Google Docs, strong writing skills, ability to work independently
Preferred (but not required) skills: Graphic design experience a plus
Event Planning – Baltimore/ Annapolis
– Reports the Development Director
– Phone calls for confirmation calls
– Assisting with assembling and mailing invites
– Graphic design experience a plus
– May work with board members
Skills required: comfortable interacting with vendors & extremely organized
Media Coverage and Communications- Annapolis
-Create content for social media and website
-Ability to learn CRM and social media platforms
-Monitor local news sources for Maryland LCV coverage
-Draft press releases, blog posts, emails, and other online and print content
-Graphic design ability
Water Multimedia Design and Communications- Annapolis/Statewide
– Reports to Water Policy Advocate
– Develop creative multimedia messages
– Help create or edit materials for publications
– Create graphics and factsheets from technical data
– Improve layout, designs, and messaging of water and diversity related campaigns.
– Artists and graphic designers encouraged to apply.
Chispa / Latinx Outreach- Baltimore/ Langley Park/ Annapolis
– Reports to Chispa Director
– Assist in development of messaging, communications, and campaign strategy
– Assist in community engagement efforts
– Attend local events and outreach opportunities
– Help coordinate and run volunteer activities
– Help design flyers and communications for events
– Spanish fluency preferred but not necessary
Clean Water Policy / Chesapeake Bay Advocacy- Annapolis/Statewide
– Reports to Water Policy Advocate
– Help coordinate campaign activities of environmental organizations
– Assist in development of messaging, communications, and campaign strategy
– Attend coalition and government meetings
– Environmental policy or communications background
Skills Required: Detail oriented, ability to juggle a variety of tasks at once, experience with Microsoft Office Suite and Google Docs. Ability to generate concise memorandums (memos), letters, and detailed reports.
Preferred (but not required) skills: Policy research and meeting facilitation experience. Watershed, conservation, and/or environmental science knowledge. Experience and/or familiarity with Maryland state political arena.
By |2019-12-19T04:11:07-05:00July 1st, 2019|Categories: CHISPA|0 Comments

15 Environmental Justice Organizations Call for Del. Lisanti’s Resignation

Karla Raettig, Maryland League of Conservation Voters
(202) 674-3174

Environmental Community Statement on Del. Mary Ann Lisanti

Our organizations work together across Maryland on environmental issues. To us, that work is an integral part of the larger work for social justice. We strive to protect the natural world out of a concern for people, communities, and future generations. People can only thrive in a healthy ecosystem on a living planet. And too often, the same racism that has deprived people of color full access to wealth and opportunity has also deprived them of access to clean air and water. 

Our organizations put our faith behind Harford County Delegate Mary Ann Lisanti as she emerged to play a leadership role in advancing a critical climate initiative for our communities. But Del. Lisanti’s racist outburst calls into question her respect for the leadership, staff, volunteers, and members of our organizations, as well as the people we advocate for. 

Our organizations will not remain silent when the foundation of our work is to lift up communities engaging for our shared values across the state and to promote a healthy environment for all Marylanders. The act of crafting public policy as a Maryland elected official is a privilege and requires a fundamental respect for every person affected by those policies. With regard to Del. Lisanti’s comments in the Washington Post, alcohol is never an excuse for racism or racist behavior. Comparing racist epithets that dehumanize us, our partners, friends, and neighbors to mere profanity is equally unacceptable because it minimizes the past and present systems which weaponize difference.

We hope that Del. Lisanti will engage in rigorous soul-searching and anti-racism, anti-oppression training that could turn this offensive episode into a truly meaningful growth experience not just for herself, but also for her colleagues, constituents, the people of Maryland, and for everyone across the country who rejects implicit and explicit racism and hatred across our nation. 

Our trust and confidence in her leadership is lost, especially on environmental issues that are core to our missions. Serving as a state elected official and being a state-wide leader on climate justice requires the full faith and trust of all Marylanders. Unfortunately, Delegate Lisanti spurned that trust and, as such, we believe the best course of action is for her to resign as a member of the House of Delegates.

Meanwhile, there is much work to be done. We urge Governor Hogan and the leadership of the Maryland Senate and Maryland House of Delegates to pass bold laws in 2019 that underscore our state’s commitment to progress in the areas of environmental health, economic justice, and racial equity as prescient matters of social justice. 


Maryland Environmental Health Network 
Sierra Club Maryland Chapter
Chesapeake Climate Action Network
Interfaith Power & Light (DC.MD.NoVA)
Maryland League of Conservation Voters (Maryland LCV)
Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of Maryland
Energize Maryland
Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility
Clean Water Action
Citizens Climate Lobby, Maryland
Food & Water Watch
The Earth Coalition
National Wildlife Federation Mid-Atlantic Regional Center
Maryland Conservation Council

By |2019-12-19T04:26:35-05:00February 28th, 2019|Categories: Education Fund|Comments Off on 15 Environmental Justice Organizations Call for Del. Lisanti’s Resignation

Maryland LCV Education Fund Among the First Maryland nonprofit organization to join the American Flood Coalition

Update by Chuck Porcari, Maryland LCV Ed Fund Board Chair

After a year of devastating flooding and intense storms, it’s more apparent than ever that Maryland is on the frontlines of climate change and our communities, economy, and environment are all at risk.


That’s why I’m proud to announce that Maryland League of Conservation Voters Education Fund is the first Maryland group, individual or entity to join the American Flood Coalition, a non-partisan (c-3) multi state organization advocating for solutions to flooding and sea level rise. Check out our press release here.


The American Flood Coalition includes well over 100 political, military, business, and civic leaders and organizations that have come together to consider, educate themselves on, and implement infrastructure activities that support flood-affected coastal and inland communities. Our colleagues at Conservation Voters of South Carolina are also a member of this organization. The coalition website (floodcoalition.org) includes many more details.


As an example of their work, the American Flood Coalition released for their membership both an overview and technical guide for local and regional flood vulnerability assessments. The overview guide is designed for municipal elected officials, while the technical guide is designed to walk municipal staff through the process. We hope to include these resources in our climate and water quality work.


As Maryland LCV Ed Fund works to educate Marylanders on the inevitability and effects of sea-level rise, stronger and more frequent storms in both coastal and inland flood-prone areas, the work of the American Flood Coalition can be another tool in this effort.

By |2019-12-19T04:27:14-05:00December 13th, 2018|Categories: Education Fund|Comments Off on Maryland LCV Education Fund Among the First Maryland nonprofit organization to join the American Flood Coalition