ESLC Climate Change/Sea Level Rise Half-Day Conference Set for April 1

The Eastern Shore is the third most susceptible region to the effects of sea level rise in the country. The Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC), a progressive, environmentally-focused nonprofit organization headquartered in Easton, will host the half-day conference, Unsinkable Eastern Shore II: Rural America Responds to Climate Change, on Saturday, April 1st from 9am to 1pm. The event will be held at the Eastern Shore Conservation Center – the former McCord laundry facility which ESLC rehabilitated and has since occupied with several other conservation groups since 2015.

The event is $20 to attend and includes breakfast, two panel discussions, and presentations by two keynote speakers. Also included with admission is a copy of speaker John Englander’s book High Tide on Main Street, which Politico Magazine called “one of the 50 most important books to read in 2016.” Attendees may register online at eslc.org/events, but are encouraged to do so soon, as seating is limited.

The conference will be hosted by ESLC’s Coastal Resilience Manager, Brian Ambrette, who has been working with town and county government on the Mid and Upper Shore for more than two years, helping to bring awareness about the effects of climate change – most notably, sea level rise – as well as working to help implement sound planning in the form of mitigation strategies and town/county comprehensive plans.

“I hope our audience will learn how their communities and their neighbors are embracing change as an opportunity to innovate and make the systems we rely on stronger and greener”, notes Ambrette. “I am excited about the new ideas that our keynote speakers will inject into the conversation.”

While the conference panels boast a mix of knowledgeable educators and emergency management professionals, the inclusion of oceanographer, author, and consultant John Englander is perhaps the most impressive addition to the conference. As a leading expert on sea level rise, Englander’s broad marine science background coupled with explorations to Greenland and Antarctica has allowed him to see the big picture of sea level rise and its societal impacts. He has served as chief executive officer for such noteworthy organizations as The International SeaKeepers and The Cousteau Society. Interestingly enough, legendary Captain Jacques Cousteau tapped John to succeed him as CEO.

Please contact ESLC’s Communication Manager, David Ferraris, at dferraris@eslc.org or 410.690.4603 x165 for more information.

Bill may Ban Foam ‘to-go’ Carriers from Food Businesses in Maryland

All expanded polystyrene products used for packaging food products, including foam carriers, could be banned from all Maryland food businesses if pending legislation is passed in the General Assembly this session.

The legislation, sponsored in the House by Delegate Brooke Lierman, D-Baltimore, will prohibit a person or business from selling or providing food in an expanded polystyrene food service product beginning Jan. 1, according to a Department of Legislative Services fiscal analysis. The bill, which has also been cross-filed in the state Senate, also bans the sale and use of loose fill packaging.

The fiscal analysis defines the banned material as “a product made of expanded polystyrene that is used for selling or providing food.” This means the bill would ban food containers, plates, hot and cold beverage cups, meat and vegetable trays and egg cartons made of expanded polystyrene.

“Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) is the generic industry name for the white rigid material made by expanding polystyrene beads with steam and pressure to bond the beads together to form blocks or to shape molds,” according to Universal Foam Products.

Styrofoam, a registered trademark and a type of expanded polystyrene, is not included in the bill, according to the Department of Legislative Services report. “Although foam coffee cups and plates are often referred to as ‘Styrofoam®,’ that terminology is incorrect,” the fiscal analysis said. Styrofoam is generally used in industrial settings for building materials and pipe insulation, according to the report.

Lierman said in a Feb. 15 House Environment and Transportation Committee hearing that this bill is an extension of a concept that has already been enacted in some areas. Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, the city of Gaithersburg and the city of Takoma Park have prohibitions on expanded polystyrene already in place.

Dr. Richard Bruno, a doctor of medicine who works at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, gave written testimony Feb. 15 in support of the bill, saying styrene, a chemical found in expanded polystyrene, is a threat to health, waterways and ecosystems.

Delegate Al Carr, D-Montgomery, said it is important to make this a statewide ban because it is a statewide issue and the ban has been successful locally.

“Businesses and government agencies have been able to adapt and have not seen an increase in their costs,” Carr said. “I have been receiving many emails from constituents in favor of the bill.”

“It is important to make it a statewide ban so that the prices of alternative products go down,” Lierman told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service. Lierman pointed to California, saying when businesses there made the transition to stock alternative recyclables the prices changed. “(Expanded polystyrene) is now more expensive than recyclable products in California,” Lierman said.

Restaurants, fast food restaurants, cafes, supermarkets or grocery stores, vending trucks or carts, movie theaters, and business or institutional cafeterias would all be food service businesses affected by this bill, according to the fiscal analysis.

“Enacting a statewide ban on polystyrene foodservice packaging will level the playing field for businesses across the state,” Nick Rudolph, President of Pigtown Main Street in Baltimore, said in his testimony to the House committee.

Dart Container Corp., a national company that manufactures cups, plates, containers, lids and straws made from such materials as expanded polystyrene foam, solid polystyrene, polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate, paper and sugar cane, opposes the bill.

Dart employs 630 Marylanders with another 50 open positions in high-paying, rural manufacturing jobs, according Paul Poe, Government Affairs and the Environment Manager at Dart. Poe said Dart is also planning to open a third facility in the state, in Havre de Grace.

Poe specified in testimony that expanded polystyrene is recyclable and Dart has created a program to accept expanded polystyrene items and recycle them with drop-off and pick-up options.

Delegate Christopher Adams, R-Caroline, Dorchester, Talbot and Wicomico, said in the House committee meeting that Dart’s stance on the bill should be considered. Since the company creates jobs for Marylanders, the state should do no harm to the company, Adams said.

“This bill is our hope for a cleaner and healthier future, to neighborhoods with less toxic trash, air and water,” Claire Wayner, a high school junior at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute in Baltimore County and founding member of Baltimore Beyond Plastic, an organization created to teach students the problems with plastics like polystyrene and elevate their reactions against it, said in her Feb. 15 testimony to the House Environment and Transportation Committee.

“At Baltimore City public schools, lunch is served on polystyrene trays, and as many students are economically disadvantaged, it’s not possible to refuse a lunch … when it may be your only food you’ll see that day,” Wayner said.

“Baltimore City schools serve daily lunch on EPS trays to 83,000 students a year,” according to a Baltimore Office of Sustainability Feb. 15 letter.

“Using compostable paper trays, plates, and other containers in place of EPS would make food recovery efforts much more feasible, because users can simply place their tray and all leftover food directly into a compost container, rather than having to separate out trash and compost,” the organization said in its letter.

“Around 1 percent of the trash properly disposed of and sent to landfills is expanded polystyrene, but up to 40 percent of litter found in and along water streams is expanded polystyrene,” according to Lierman. “That shows the disproportionate amount of (expanded polystyrene) that is recycled and littered.”

Prince George’s County Department of the Environment Director Adam Ortiz told the House committee it costs $60 per ton to process expanded polystyrene food products, but when they are able to compost the alternative recyclable products, they make money.

Baltimore City, Caroline, Howard and Washington counties accept polystyrene plastics for recycling, but the rest of the Maryland jurisdictions do not, according to the analysis.

“Growing up in neighborhoods that are full of trash, it’s hard to not self-identify with the image of trash,” Wayner said in her testimony.

“Forcing businesses to use alternative products does not reduce litter; it simply changes in composition,” Melvin Thompson, senior vice president of the Maryland Restaurant Association said in a Feb. 15 letter to the committee.

Lierman said that she understands people who litter with foam containers will probably continue to litter with alternatives, but the alternatives are better for the environment and easier to pick up than the expanded polystyrene products.

There are also health risks for consumers who use expanded polystyrene containers, according to Lierman. When expanded polystyrene is heated, it leaches styrene into the food or liquid that is in the containers, Lierman said.

“Styrene, the main ingredient in (expanded polystyrene), has been listed as a possible carcinogen by both the International Agency for Research on cancer and the National Toxicology Program since 2002,” Bruno wrote in his testimony.

“The general public is exposed to 20 mg of styrene annually,” according to Bruno. “This toxin has no place in our bodies, schools, restaurants or homes.”

But the American Chemistry Council referred to a 2013 study completed by the Plastics Foodservice Packaging Group in its Feb. 15 written testimony that said “current exposures to styrene from the use of polystyrene food contact products remain extremely low, with the estimated daily intake calculated at 6.6 micrograms per person per day.”

“This is more than 10,000 times below the safety limit set by the FDA,” the organization said. “The FDAs acceptable daily intake value of styrene is calculated to be 90,000 micrograms per person per day.”

The fiscal analysis said the effect on small businesses and the state will be minimal. There will be an increased cost to the state of $19,300 in the 2018 fiscal year in order to conduct the education and outreach campaign, but will decrease to zero after one year.

“County health departments must enforce the bill’s prohibitions and may impose a penalty of up to $250 on violators,” according to the fiscal analysis. Health departments must issue a written notice of the business’ or person’s violation and allow three months to correct the violation before a fine can be issued.

By Cara Newcomer

Finally Some Good News from PA; Farmers have Stepped up to Curb Pollution

or several years, regulators and environmental watchdogs have been sounding the alarm about Pennsylvania agriculture’s lagging pace in meeting its Chesapeake Bay cleanup goals. For nearly as long, Pennsylvania farmers have been telling the government that they have been putting in a lot of pollution-controlling practices, but they weren’t getting credit for them.

So in 2016 the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection sought to determine who was right. Working with the Penn State Survey Research Center, environmental officials sent questionnaires to the state’s farmers.

A total of 6,782 farmers — 35 percent of the 20,000 farmers to whom the survey was mailed — answered the questions. They included information about how many best management practices were in place and where they were. To verify the information, the Penn State researchers visited 700 farms, about 10 percent of the respondents, to inspect.

So, who was right? Turns out, maybe both.

Patrick McDonnell, the state’s acting environmental protection secretary, said the farmers are clearly putting in practices that had not been accounted for previously. Among them, he said, are more than 2,000 barnyard runoff control systems that had not been counted in the Chesapeake Bay Program’s models. These systems help keep animal manure from washing into streams and rivers. The farmers also reported installing 1 million linear feet of fencing along streams, which was more than expected.

Still, it’s not enough, McDonnell said.

“We still have a big hill to climb in meeting our Bay obligations,” he said in a December webinar to report the Penn State survey results, which included several other environmental and agricultural officials. McDonnell said that the survey will help with that climb. Regulators, researchers and the specialists who install buffers and manure-management systems will now be able to get more complete data on what farmers are already doing to curb pollution.

“We can have a general understanding of what is happening out there,” he added.
Russ Redding, Pennsylvania’s agriculture secretary, called the survey an “unprecedented” effort to listen to the state’s farmers.

“We have taken a concern that has been raised in the agriculture community for some time,” Redding said, “and today we know more about what that concern is, what it looks like.”

Matthew Royer, director of Penn State’s Agriculture and Environment Center, which oversaw the survey, said researchers will continue to collect and analyze information gathered from farmers. For example, Royer said he did not know how many Plain Sect farmers had participated, or what practices they were most likely to put in, but he said researchers could find that out as they examined the results more closely.

All of the pollution reduction steps farmers have taken appear to be having some effect in the Susquehanna River, says Rich Batiuk, associate director for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program office.

“I never thought I would see it in my 30 years here, but for the first time, the amount of nitrogen is heading down,” Batiuk says. “We have a grass bed in the Susquehanna Flats that you can see from space. Pennsylvania farmers can take a lot of credit for that particular work.”

Despite such signs of progress, the Bay Program’s computer modeling indicates that the state still has a long way to go. Last year, the Bay Journal reported that an EPA review said that Pennsylvania needed to double the number of farm acres under nutrient management and plant seven times as many acres of forest and grass buffers as it did in 2014 to help it get back on track to meet Bay nutrient pollution reduction targets.

In the next three years, the 2015 report stated, Pennsylvania would have to reduce nitrogen loads almost four times as much as the rest of the watershed states combined to meet the goals set for the end of 2017. To assist with that effort, federal and state officials in October announced a $28 million aid package to focus on farm runoff.

Harry Campbell, Pennsylvania executive director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, says he is glad to see farmers are doing the right thing for the local waterways and using their own money to do it.

But, he adds, “with over 6,700 miles of rivers and streams impaired by agriculture, the work is far from over in Pennsylvania.”

Bay Journal staff writer Rona Kobell is a former reporter for the Baltimore Sun.

Senator Ben Cardin Set to Visit ESLC Cambridge Project March 10

Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) will be visiting Cambridge, Maryland on Friday, March 10, 2017 to join join representatives from the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC), Baltimore’s Cross Street Partners, and Preservation Maryland for a tour and media availability regarding The Packing House – a historic tax credit rehabilitation project.

In addition to addressing the media and answering questions immediately following the tour, Senator Cardin will spotlight his new legislation to improve the federal historic tax credit program, which will benefit rural communities and small towns across Maryland.

A partnership between ESLC, Cross Street Partners, and the City of Cambridge, The Packing House (ThePackingHouseCambridge.com) is an urban revitalization project that seeks to repurpose the historic, 60,000 square-foot Phillips Cannery building in Cambridge into an active, mixed-use plan for office and food-related innovation.

This structure is the last standing piece of the storied Phillips Packing Company empire, which employed thousands in Cambridge and served as the largest supplier of rations to American troops in World War II.

The project was recently awarded a $3M historic tax credit for revitalization of a structure located within an underserved community. Plans include an array of food-related uses that acknowledge and support local hunger and nutrition needs, building off of the Eastern Shore’s agricultural resources and a growing local food economy of growers, makers, distributors, retailers, and restaurants.

The ambitious vision to renovate and repurpose the former Phillips ‘Factory F’ is key to the continued revitalization of Cambridge, including Cannery Park – the adjacent 6.6 acres of land which includes the Cambridge Creek headwater area that will begin a stream restoration process this coming spring.

The event is free and open to interested members of the public, friends of ESLC, and the media. For members of the media planning to attend the grand opening of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center immediately afterwards, a bus will be held at the Hyatt Regency Cambridge so that they will be able to attend both events. Please contact ESLC’s Communication Manager, David Ferraris, at dferraris@eslc.org or 410.690.4603 x165 for more information.

LOCATION: Phillips Packing Plant, 411 Dorchester Avenue, Cambridge, MD 21613
AGENDA: Arrive at Packing House 11:15am; Tour the building; Press availability 11:40am; Depart Packing House at 12:00pm.

CBF Poll: MD Voters Overwhelmingly Support Oyster Sanctuaries

An overwhelming majority of Maryland voters across party lines support maintaining existing Chesapeake Bay oyster sanctuaries, according to a poll by a bipartisan research team commissioned by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF).

“The state is considering a proposal to open up a net of nearly 1,000 acres of oyster sanctuaries to harvest. ‘Don’t you dare!’ Marylanders are saying loud and clear,” said Alison Prost, Maryland Executive Director of CBF. “Voters understand the value of leaving a quarter of the state’s reefs closed to harvest, so oysters can recover from decades of overharvest and disease.”

The results found 88 percent of Marylanders support existing sanctuaries, two-thirds of those voters “strongly.” The findings suggest strong support across party lines, with 91 percent of registered Democrats, 89 percent of Independents, and 82 percent of Republicans in support.

Public support for the sanctuaries actually increased after the survey summarized the oyster industry’s reasons for wanting the expanded harvesting. Industry representatives have argued at Maryland Oyster Advisory Commission (OAC) meetings that the state unfairly increased the sanctuaries in 2010. They say too much public money has been spent on restoring the oyster population of the Bay.

Understanding the industry’s position, voters were even more in favor of keeping sanctuaries intact, with support rising from 88 percent to 91 percent.

The poll found voters understand the value of undisturbed oyster beds. Fully 92 percent said that the ability of those sanctuary reefs to filter pollutants from the water, and to improve water quality was “extremely” or “very important” to them. And 88 percent of voters said they value the protection and habitat for fish, crabs, and other plants and wildlife that protected reefs provide.

The poll results come a little over a week after the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) compiled proposals submitted to date and presented a “strawman” proposal to the OAC to let the oyster industry harvest on 977 acres net of oyster reefs which currently are off-limits to harvesting. That proposal will be discussed by OAC members, and possibly adopted, changed or rejected in coming weeks.

A bill (HB 924) being considered in the Maryland General Assembly would require the state to hold off on any alterations of the oyster sanctuaries until a scientific assessment of the oyster stock is completed in 2018. That legislation will be heard today, Feb. 24, at 1 p.m. in the House Environment and Transportation Committee.

Sanctuaries are Maryland’s insurance policy for the future oyster population. By protecting a small portion of the state’s oyster bottom from harvesting, oysters on the sanctuaries can grow and reproduce. A DNR study published in July, 2016 found oysters thriving in much of the sanctuary system, but found scarce numbers of oysters elsewhere.

Three-quarters of Maryland’s oyster reefs are open to harvesting, under current regulations. The proposal before the OAC would shrink the sanctuary areas by 11 percent, and enlarge the harvest areas.

The poll was conducted by a bipartisan collaboration between Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, a Democratic polling firm, and Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican polling firm.

“Marylanders understand we must take the long view managing our oysters. That’s why it’s vitally important we wait for scientists to finish their stock assessment. We wouldn’t spend money without knowing what’s in our bank account. We need science-based management for Maryland oysters just like we have for every other fishery. We must wait to see how many oysters are at the bottom of the Bay before we randomly increase the harvest,” Prost said.

Bay Grass Restoration Threatened by Warming, Scientists Say

The Bay region is unlikely to meet its underwater grass restoration goals unless it clears up the Chesapeake’s water beyond what is now targeted, scientists warned in a recent journal article.

If more action is not taken, they warn that eelgrass — the primary underwater grass species found in high-salinity portions of the Bay — may face a “catastrophic” decline in the Chesapeake because of a combination of warming temperatures and murky water.

As a consequence, they predict populations of blue crabs and many other fish will also decline as areas with once-lush grass beds convert to muddy bottoms. They project that the resulting economic impacts from that loss of habitat could reach $1.5 billion to $2.5 billion annually.

Nor is it only a problem for the future, the scientists said in a paper published in the journal Global Change Biology in early February. Over the last half-century, eelgrass has been eliminated from nearly half the area it once occupied in the Bay. It rebounded slightly in the late 1980s, but since 1991 — a period when grass beds have come back in many other areas — eelgrass acreage has declined 29 percent.

“It is happening now, and it is happening rapidly,” warned Jonathan Lefcheck, a post-doctoral researcher at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, and lead author of the paper.

Underwater grass beds are one of the most critical habitats found in the Bay. They provide shelter for juvenile crabs and fish, as well as food for waterfowl. They also protect shorelines from the erosive force of waves, and help filter sediment and nutrients out of the water.

Like all plants, underwater grasses need sunlight to survive. In the wake of Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972, grass beds suffered dramatic declines as the Bay filled with sediment and nutrient-fueled algae blooms, hitting a low point of 38,000 acres in 1983.

Since then, grass species in general have made a comeback in many places, reaching 92,315 acres throughout the Chesapeake and its tidal rivers in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available. That’s about half of the Baywide goal of 185,000 acres, which is based on observations made in the decades prior to Agnes.

Eelgrass, though, has declined. That’s a concern because unlike grass species that thrive in the low-salinity waters of the Upper Bay, eelgrass is the only seagrass that can survive in much of the lower, saltier Chesapeake. In most high-salinity areas of the Bay, there is nothing that can take its place. The paper pins eelgrass loss on two factors: loss of water clarity and warming water temperatures.

In many of the eelgrass-dominated areas, water clarity has generally worsened since 1997, the paper says. Eelgrass was once commonly found at depths of more than 1 meter, but murkier water means plants no longer get enough sunlight to survive at such depths.

Meanwhile, gradually warming water temperatures are adding stress to the plants, which are near the southern edge of their range in the Bay. Eelgrass does not tolerate hot temperatures and it suffered sharp diebacks after hot summers in 2005 and 2010.

In effect, scientists say, poor water clarity is squeezing eelgrass into shallower areas, but those are also warmer.

Further, there is not enough shallow water habitat available to restore historic levels of underwater grass in high salinity areas where eelgrass is the dominant — and typically only — species, says David Wilcox, a data analyst at VIMS who was a co-author of the paper.

“Unless we get the deep beds back, it would be hard to drive that up,” he says. “It is hard to imagine getting that deeper grass without the clarity that would support that.”

Scientists say they expect further decreases if past trends continue. The paper says that the impact of warming temperatures alone in the next 30 years would lead to a further 38 percent decline in eelgrass cover. Similarly, if water clarity trends in the Lower Bay remain unchanged, eelgrass would decline 84 percent. If both trends continue, 95 percent of eelgrass beds would be lost in the Chesapeake in 30 years, the paper says.

Such a loss would reverberate throughout the ecosystem, as there is no other species that would fill the void, resulting in declines of blue crabs, silver perch and a host of other species highly dependent on grass beds in the lower Bay.

“If you’re a guy who wants to take his son fishing on the weekend, you can expect a lot fewer fish out there,” Lefcheck said. “The eelgrass habitat is going away, so all these critters are going to have no place to live.”

Scientists also worry that a catastrophic loss may not be decades away. Eelgrass suffered huge diebacks in the aforementioned hot summers: 55 percent after 2005 and 41 percent after 2010.
In both cases, the beds rebounded, but scientists say that likely would not be the case if there are two consecutive hot years — the odds of which increase as average temperatures continue to rise.

The reason eelgrass might die back permanently with a prolonged hot spell stems from the method by which it reproduces. It has root-like structures called rhizomes, which produce new shoots that spread over the bottom, but if the plant is killed in late summer, when water temperatures are at their warmest, the rhizomes die too.

Eelgrass beds also produce seeds in the spring, which can still produce a recovery the following year even if the plants die during the summer. But if a plant-killing heat spell hits for a second year in a row, neither the seeds nor the rhizomes would be available to spur a comeback in the third year.

In fact, that appears to be what happened at an eelgrass restoration site in the Piankatank River during two consecutive hot growing seasons in the early 1990s, says Bob Orth, a longtime underwater grass researcher at VIMS and co-author of the paper.

“Because there were no seeds, in that third year there were no plants left in the Piankatank,” Orth says, noting that the eelgrass has been largely absent from the river since. “We had an open window into what could happen if we had significant Baywide heat events back-to-back.”

The paper has significant implications for Bay cleanup efforts. Chesapeake Bay water clarity standards are designed to return underwater grass abundances similar to those observed the mid-1900s throughout the Bay. Meeting those clarity requirements requires nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment reductions to ensure that enough light reaches grasses to allow their return.

But, scientists say, those clarity goals never accounted for the impact of warming temperatures on eelgrass.

Eelgrass can withstand “moderate increases in temperature,” the paper says, but only if water was clearer than in the past, so plants would not have to work as hard to get energy from the sun — thereby offsetting some of the stress on the plant caused by the heat.

“We’re pretty certain that if we want eelgrass to return to its previous habitat, you are going to have to get more clarity,” Orth says. “It is a physiological fact.”

Rich Batiuk, associate director for science with the EPA’s Bay Program Office, says that before water clarity standards can be changed, scientists need to determine just how much clearer water would need to be to support the eelgrass restoration in the face of warming temperatures. Then, he says, the state-federal Bay Program partnership would have to determine whether those goals are achievable.

“We may have to rethink what is possible in a Chesapeake that is going to have warmer summers in Virginia’s portion of the Bay,” Batiuk says.

That sets up a tough choice for the region, he added, because losing eelgrass in the Lower Bay would have consequences for the entire ecosystem. For instance, juvenile crabs that find shelter in eelgrass beds later spread throughout the Chesapeake.
“One change there can reverberate around the system, not just in Virginia itself, because it is such an integrated system,” Batiuk says.

Besides Lefcheck, Wilcox and Orth, other authors on the paper include Rebecca Murphy of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, and Scott Marion, of the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife.

By Karl Blankenship

Karl Blankenship is editor of the Bay Journal and executive director of Chesapeake Media Service. He has served as editor of the Bay Journal since its inception in 1991. 

Annapolis: Deforestation, Fracking Bills Spark Rallies before Hearing

Support for forest protection and opposition to hydraulic fracturing sparked two different rallies Wednesday, just before the House Environment and Transportation Committee heard testimony on three related bills. 
 
Two of the bills would ban and criminalize hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The other would require developers to replant an acre of trees for every acre of forest they clear.
 
All three bills force lawmakers to confront issues that feature business interests on one side and environmental protection interests on the other. 
 
Activists organized a “Fight for the Forests” rally less than an hour before the committee’s Wednesday afternoon meeting. The rally attracted supporters from all over the state.
 
“Under the Forest Conservation Act currently, the way the replacement values work, it guarantees that development is going to operate at a net loss of forest,” Chesapeake Bay Foundation staff attorney Elaine Lutz told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service. “(Under the current regulations) developers are subject to minimal planting requirements … that essentially comes out to one acre replanted for every four acres cleared—if that.”
 
Maryland has lost 14,480 acres of forest over the last eight years, according to data provided by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
“The FCA does not cover all forest in Maryland,” Lutz said. “It typically covers the areas that are in our urban and suburban communities, and those are the forests that are the most susceptible to being lost to development without replacement.”
 
The majority of acres cleared and lost comes from the district of Delegate Anne Healey, D-Prince George’s, who is sponsoring the bill. In Prince George’s County alone, more than 9,000 acres were cleared and less than 2,000 were replanted during the same time span, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s data.
 
The committee also heard testimony on Wednesday from Sen. Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo, D-Montgomery, and numerous supporters and opponents of a pair of bills that would ban and criminalize the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in Maryland.
 
A couple dozen supporters of legislation banning fracking congregated outside the House of Delegates office building Wednesday afternoon. They held signs and banners and waved at drivers passing by, many of whom waved and honked at them. 
 
A state moratorium on fracking is set to expire in October. With that deadline approaching, legislators in both Maryland’s House and the Senate have introduced bills that would permanently ban the practice in the state.
 
“This session is the last chance for Maryland legislators to step up and protect the health, environment and tourism economy from the dangers of fracking once and for all,” Jackie Filson, field communications officer for D.C.-based consumer rights group Food & Water Watch, told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service. “We’re looking to House delegates to act now and support (these bills) for a permanent, statewide fracking ban.”
 
Lawmakers and activists seek to not only ban fracking in the state, citing concerns about environmental effects, but criminalize the practice, for further deterrence, under a separate bill. 
 
“If you frack in Maryland, you will go to jail (under the bill). That’s a completely different message than (writing a check) to make the problem go away,” Fraser-Hidalgo said.
 
Some of the individuals who oppose a fracking ban say that the people against the process are people who by and large aren’t from the areas where hydraulic fracturing would take place.
 
“I represent exclusively the area where fracking would occur,” said Delegate Wendell Beitzel, R-Garrett and Allegany. “This country has been fracking since 1947, and it’s been a real game changer. Folks in the rest of the state (who are for a ban) don’t fully understand (the benefits). 
 
Beitzel said last week he feels the concerns over health and environmental risks are overblown, and that the regulations Maryland would impose on fracking businesses are more than enough to mitigate any potential hazards.
 
“The ban is overkill,” Beitzel continued. “The anti-fracking publicity in itself has hurt tourism to Western Maryland more than (actual drilling) could.”
 
By Jack Chavez

Op-Ed: The Case for a Fracking Ban by Paul Roberts and Mike Tidwell

Next week, on Feb. 28, the Health, Education and Environmental Affairs Committee in the Maryland Senate will take up legislation dealing with shale-gas drilling (fracking). For public safety, economic, and environmental reasons, we believe the technology should not be allowed in Maryland.

Nearly three out of four senators have indicated a willingness to extend the current fracking moratorium, set to expire in October. This suggests they recognize that gas-drilling will not be the economic bonanza that supporters have claimed since 2011, when the mountains above Marcellus Shale deposits in Western Maryland were first targeted.

Two bills are pending. one bans fracking altogether, while the other extends the moratorium for two years—though it departs from the current moratorium by permitting fracking in counties that approve it by referendum. On the ban bill, 23 of the Senate’s 33 Democrats are co-sponsors; the moratorium bill has 24 co-sponsors, including several Republicans.

In the House of Delegates, leadership declared long ago that a frack-free Maryland was its preference. A ban bill is advancing, and there is no moratorium bill. After committee hearings, legislation may go to the floor of each chamber for further debate. If the House and Senate don’t pass the same bill, some sort of compromise is required before any legislation can be approved and sent to the governor for his consideration.

About three-fourths of Marylanders already live in a place where local elected officials have created anti-fracking laws or resolutions. But fracking is regulated by the state. So, for those who’ve worked for six legislative sessions on the issue, the “heavy lift” is in the Maryland Senate.

Unlike neighboring Pennsylvania and West Virginia, Maryland did not rush into fracking. Successive administrations studied the technology, then overhauled outdated regulations. Meanwhile, energy prices continued to fall. The industry allowed nearly all of its original sub-surface mineral leases purchased last decade to lapse.

Furthermore, Maryland lacks large-scale deposits, the pipeline and processing infrastructure, or interest from industry (in the form of leased mineral rights) to make large-scale fracking financially feasible today. Yet we can’t rule out a change of circumstances that drives up fossil fuel prices—setting set off a new round of leasing that leads to fracking in years ahead.

Meanwhile, mounting problems elsewhere show the technology cannot be effectively regulated. In Pennsylvania recently, investigators from Public Herald, an investigative journalism nonprofit, dug up previously undisclosed citizen complaints about water contamination from fracking. Their work took years. Far from regulators’ 280-odd citations against industry, Public Herald found some 4,100 complaint filings—all told, one official complaint for nearly every well drilled. There’s more. It appears that the vast majority were never investigated. Then unresolved original complaints were shredded. Hundreds of state law violations were documented, and Flint, Mich.-style government criminality is a possibility.

In recent weeks in Western Maryland, many residents were infuriated by the Senate president’s public remarks that “there are no jobs whatsoever” in that part of the state. In fact, the unemployment rate in Western Maryland in 2016 was almost identical to the state average, and lower than some counties. Long gone are the days that Mountain Maryland depended overly on extractive energy and assembly line work.

Tourism and vacation real estate provide about half of all jobs and two-thirds of Garrett County’s tax base. Some of the highest-value rural real estate in the eastern United States lines the shores of Deep Creek Lake—second only to Ocean City as a vacation destination for Marylanders. Generations have visited and created the magical memories that many families cherish forever.

To state the obvious, nowhere in the world do fracking and world-class tourism mix. That’s why in Florida right now, with Republicans in charge, the legislature is considering a fracking ban. Florida’s economy is Deep Creek’s, writ large.

Additionally, fracking is “anti-business”: While a few short-term jobs may be created, most Western Marylanders—like others in a state where the solar industry grew 40 percent in 2015—prefer small-business ownership, with sustainable economic investments in tourism, agriculture, and green energy.

Mountainside solar installations are burgeoning. Indeed, Western Marylanders want the same future as the rest of the state. Most polls show that a strong majority of Garrett and Allegany county residents want the fracking ban that Marylanders as a whole support.

Is this another “jobs versus environment” debate? Not at all. Nationally, less than 10 percent of jobs on a well-pad are unionized. Along with embalmers and theater projectionists, zero petroleum engineers belong to unions.

The Laborers International Union recently came out in support of fracking and staged a rally in Annapolis. In a union with a proud tradition of training workers in emerging industries, wouldn’t organizing solar-industry installers sustain and grow its membership?

Finally, there’s the matter of fracking’s effect on global climate change. Farmers statewide are already feeling the effects of erratic precipitation, unpredictable freezes and bigger storms. This year, the annual “Winterfest” festival in Oakland, Md. (the state’s “snowiest” town) was postponed due to spring-like weather.

Scientists agree that fossil fuel combustion is driving planetary warming. And new scientific analysis confirms that fracked gas is nearly as bad as coal for the atmosphere. That’s because, before it is burned at distant power plants or on your stovetop, natural gas (mostly methane) is constantly leaking from wellheads, pipelines and compressor stations. Estimates of leakage vary from about 2 percent of production to more than 10 percent. Overall, carbon dioxide is a more potent greenhouse gas, but in the short-term—measured in 20-year periods—methane is orders of magnitude more detrimental. So the life-cycle warming impact of gas rivals coal. To save our climate, we have to steadily move off of gas, not increase its use through reckless fracking.

For Maryland’s economy, health and environment, we need to ban fracking once and for all. This drilling method will never be safe. We have all of the data we need on that. Now we just need the political will of our leaders in Annapolis to finally do the right thing.

Paul Roberts served as a state commissioner on a special fracking study panel under former Gov. O’Malley, and is the board president of Citizen Shale in Western Maryland. Mike Tidwell is director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

Op-Ed: The View of an Oyster Sanctuary from CBF’s Perspective by Tom Zolper

The fate of Maryland’s oyster population is being worked out in a church basement in Annapolis.

That’s where the state Oyster Advisory Commission (OAC) meets the second Monday of each month. This is the group appointed by Governor Hogan to review the state’s oyster management system, and to recommend changes, if necessary.  

This past Monday night was perhaps the most important OAC meet so far. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) presented a proposal to open up about 970 acres of ‘sanctuary’ oyster reefs to harvest.

As I have on several occasions, I sat in on the OAC meeting. But it was difficult to sit still.

The makeup of the OAC is controversial, filled mostly with watermen and those who sympathize with their views. The direction the OAC is taking also is controversial.  

The controversy brings out the crowds. The OAC meetings used to take place in a meeting room at the DNR headquarters right next door. So many people began showing up, DNR had to move the meeting to the fellowship hall of the Calvary United Methodist Church on Rowe Blvd. Now even that room is often jammed.

Watermen feel the state has cheated them. Under prior governor Martin O’Malley the state increased the acres of productive oyster reefs set aside as sanctuaries—those areas that can’t be harvested. O’Malley himself was guided by scientists’ warnings that so few oysters remained in the Chesapeake that the status quo was no longer viable.

With input from everyone involved with oysters, the harvest industry included, O’Malley increased from nine percent to 24 percent the portion of oyster bars protected as sanctuaries. Three-quarters of reefs were to remain open to harvest. He also relaxed decades-old regulations to give watermen more opportunities to farm oysters rather than harvest them in the wild. In Virginia oyster aquaculture is a booming business, but at the time of O’Malley’s new plan it was negligible in Maryland. The idea was to boost watermen’s earnings, and simultaneously to take out an insurance plan for the future of oysters in the Bay.

There’s no doubt short term watermen took a hit. They had fewer places to harvest, although fortunately for them Mother Nature provided strong oyster reproduction for several years, resulting in strong harvests.  

Scientists and groups such as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) where I work sympathized with the watermen. But we believed someone had to take the long view before oysters were wiped out completely.

CBF, along with a host of western and Eastern Shore groups such as the Midshore River Conservancy, St. Mary’s River Watershed Association, and others, believe the OAC proposal to shrink the sanctuaries is ill-advised. At a minimum, the state must wait till DNR finishes a stock assessment of the oyster population. You wouldn’t start spending more money without knowing what’s in your bank account. That’s exactly what the proposal would do.

It would open up 1277 acres of sanctuaries for harvest in the following rivers and Bay segments: Upper Chester, Miles, Wye, Upper Choptank, Hooper Strait, Upper Patuxent and Tangier Sound. It would expand sanctuaries by 300 acres in: Mill Hill/Prospect Bay, Eastern Bay, Lower Choptank and Nanticoke River. The net result would be 977 fewer acres in sanctuaries, an 11 percent reduction in those sanctuary acres.

It’s only 11 percent, you might say. But it’s 11 percent of the most productive, healthy sanctuary bars in the Bay. And it is giving away these protected areas before we have any idea the true size of the oyster population. That’s not scientific. That’s not sound judgment. Harvesting oysters on those 977 previously protected acres could do irreversible damage to the fragile population.

A bill in the Maryland General Assembly, HB 924, would freeze any alterations in the sanctuaries till after the stock assessment. Oyster harvesting is the only major fishery in Maryland that isn’t managed with a science-based plan. It pays us to wait till we have the science before we implement a major change such as OAC is considering.

The bill will be heard this Friday, Feb. 24, at 1 pm in the House Environment and Transportation Committee. We urge people concerned about the proposal to shrink sanctuaries to make their voice heard.

Tom Zolper is Assistant Director of Media Relations at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. For more information about CBF please go here.

 

  

Irish Firm Brings Renewable Energy to Eastern Shore Poultry Industry

Bob Murphy’s Double Trouble Farms may be the most cutting-edge poultry operation on the Eastern Shore right now.

But the significance of the farm in Rhodesdale, Maryland, is not the poultry itself. It’s the technology used to repurpose chicken manure.

CNS-BAY-POULTRY002wThe Maryland Department of Agriculture and Irish agri-tech company Biomass Heating Solutions Limited, or BHSL, have committed nearly $3 million toward manure-to-energy technology that they hope will significantly reduce the impact of Murphy’s chickens—and perhaps one day all Eastern Shore poultry—on the Chesapeake Bay.

“Our main objective is bird enhancement,” BHSL project engineer James O’Sullivan told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service. “We want to completely diminish ammonium (from Murphy’s chickens to the bay). We want to reduce humidity (in the chicken houses) and have a drier atmosphere for the birds, hence drier manure.”

The project was completed and went online in December. While O’Sullivan oversees the equipment on the farm, BHSL runs it off-site.

“The whole system is fully automated,” O’Sullivan said. “It is controlled by our remote operations team in Ireland.”

The farm houses more than 160,000 chickens—a large number, no question—but a fraction of the 300 million “broilers,” or chickens bred specifically for meat production, that the USDA says the state produces annually.

O’Sullivan says the chickens on Murphy’s farm can produce as much as 10 tons of manure a day. When left on the ground, the manure finds its way into local waterways and eventually the Chesapeake Bay.

The phosphorus and nitrogen in livestock manure are essential to healthy ecosystems, according to a 2004 report released by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. In excess, however, these natural plant nutrients cause “explosive” growth in algae and other underwater plants, which stifle other forms of life in the bay.

BHSL utilizes a process called fluidized bed combustion, which works by heating a bed of sand inside a fuel combustion chamber until bubbling at 600 degrees Fahrenheit. Once this level is reached, manure is fed into the chamber and the temperature is raised to 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit. This process produces hot gases, which in turn are used to boil water that ultimately heats the chicken houses.

Not only does the process heat the chicken houses with clean, renewable energy, it keeps the manure off the ground and out of the waterways.

Livestock manure has long been one of the sources of bay pollution that the state Department of Agriculture seeks to diminish, but implementing environmentally friendly policies while preserving industries vital to local economies has been difficult.

“We can’t lose poultry on the Eastern Shore,” Murphy said. “People are looking for ways to save it, and that’s my goal.”

Murphy sees this technology, which his farm and BHSL began working on three years ago, as a means to clean the bay while preserving a vital economy.

“Right now we’re transporting manure (to other nearby farms for fertilizer),” Murphy said. “But eventually those fields, which didn’t have manure before, will get caught up and experience the same problem.”

“Somewhere along the line, we have to get rid of this manure,” Murphy added. “If you can burn eight to 10 (tons) a day, that’s manure that doesn’t go on the fields.”

Murphy says he hasn’t heard any opposition to the project locally, and others in the poultry industry have met the project with approval.

“The economy around here is driven by chicken farms,” said Bruce Boney, a former IT contractor for Perdue Farms. “If they’re trying to make an effort towards cleaner water, I think it’s positive work.”

O’Sullivan is quick to note that BHSL is not bringing technology to the United States that doesn’t have a track record. In fact, the company first implemented their fluidized bed combustion chamber units in the United Kingdom in 2003, and today run eight different units on six different farms there.

One of the main byproducts of the process is fly ash, and O’Sullivan says BHSL is determining a market for it. Specifically, BHSL is in talks with composting and phosphorus leaching companies, he said. Fly ash’s value comes from its phosphorus, potassium and carbon content.

If the project goes well, O’Sullivan said, there are plans to bring the technology to nearby Bellview Farms, another poultry farm Murphy owns. Bellview houses twice as many chickens as Double Trouble Farms.

Manure-to-energy technology has the potential to reshape how farms handle excess manure not only in Maryland, but the rest of the country, especially the other bay-watershed states.

“Maryland is literally creating the blueprint (for dealing with excess manure in waterways),” Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Joe Bartenfelder said last month.

Maryland’s commitment toward the project, $970,000, comes from the Department of Agriculture’s Animal Waste Technology Fund. Grants from the fund are awarded based on an applicant’s ability to meet a variety of requirements, according to the department’s Office of Resource Conservation program manager Louise Lawrence.

“(We run) a competitive (application process) annually. Proposals are evaluated based on responses to requirements,” Lawrence said. “We have approved funding for six projects to date. These projects vary in cost from $300,000 to $1.4 million.”

Other projects include:

–$150,790 to Green Mountain Technologies Inc. to repurpose horse manure at Days End Farm in Woodbine.
–$237,520 to Green Mountain Technologies Inc. to repurpose dairy cow manure at Iager Farms in Frederick County.
–$350,302 to Veteran Compost and O2 Compost to repurpose horse manure in Davidsonville.
–$676,144 to Planet Found Energy Development to repurpose poultry manure in Berlin.
–$1.4 million to CleanBay Renewables to construct and operate an energy-to-manure plant that will benefit farms in Somerset County.

Gov. Larry Hogan, Bartenfelder, and individuals from the Chesapeake Bay Commission, Perdue Farms, and the University of Maryland’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources are among a list of guests who are scheduled to visit Double Trouble Farms on Monday.

 

By Jack Chavez