Scientists defend storm-water controls

Baltimore Sun
Tim Wheeler
09/20/2013
Scientists and others engaged in protecting Maryland's rivers and streams are rising to the defense of the state's storm-water management laws in the wake of Harford County Executive David Craig's call for their repeal. Craig, a leading Republican candidate for governor in next year's election, said earlier this week that he would push for repeal of at least three state environmental laws, including one requiring property owners in Baltimore City and the state's nine largest counties to pay a fee for reducing storm-water runoff in their communities. The fee, which Craig and other critics have dubbed a "rain tax," is generally assessed based on the amount of pavement and rooftop that property owners have. Craig contends the fees are inconsistently applied and so steep in places like Baltimore that they'll drive businesses out. But in calling for the fee's repeal, Craig took aim at the scientific basis for focusing on such "impervious surface." "The impervious surface really doesn't matter," Craig said. "The rain is going to get through somewhere, somehow." Craig also called for repeal of a 2007 law tightening requirements for new development to limit storm-water runoff, and of a 1984 law limiting development near the shore of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Scientists take issue with Craig over his statement questioning the science behind the storm-water fees. "Mr. Craig's comment flies in the face of all available science on the issue, and more importantly, in the face of common sense," said Andrew J. Elmore, an associate professor at the University of Maryland's Appalachian Environmental Laboratory in Frostburg. Hye Yeong Kwon, executive director of the Center for Watershed Protection in Ellicott City, said the connection between impervious surface and stream vitality has been established for years now. Rainfall runs off pavement and roofs when in an undeveloped setting it would soak into the ground, explained Kwon. Her nonprofit center works with local governments and others to curb the effects of storm water.

Frederick County gets a reputation for mean

Lovely vistas, destination dining and a hard line on undocumented workers
Baltimore Sun
Dan Rodricks
08/14/2013
A smart, progressive event gets under way in Frederick County in about a week — a farm-to-fork promotion in 13 restaurants there. Starting Aug. 23, the participating establishments will offer home-grown food and wine; they'll buy enough products from county farmers and vintners to make their menus 60 percent local. That's an oh-so-trendy concept and at the same time old-fashioned, a throwback to the days when chefs bought their meats and produce out the back door. Farm-to-Fork Frederick gets chefs acquainted with local farmers, and it challenges locavores to put their money where their mouths have been — demanding regionalization of the food supply. So people who want to see more local (and organic) produce, fish and meats on the menus of their favorite restaurants ought to get out to Frederick between Aug. 23 and Labor Day to support the effort. That is, of course, unless you have a problem with Frederick County — or, to be more exact, with the people who run Frederick County, the Board of County Commissioners and the sheriff. The president of the commissioners, Blaine Young, has boasted that Frederick is the Maryland county "most unfriendly to illegal aliens."

Frederick County levies 1-cent storm-water fee

Local officials protest state-mandated pollution control law
Baltimore Sun
Tim Wheeler
05/31/2013
Unhappy over a state law requiring property owners to pay a new fee to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay, Frederick County officials have decided to set the charge at just a penny a year. The county's board of commissioners approved the 1-cent storm-water pollution control fee on Thursday, declaring they were doing even that only to avoid possible state restrictions on new development in the county if they didn't act.

Food-scrap composting finds a home in Howard

County launches own facility to process residential waste
Baltimore Sun
Timothy B. Wheeler
04/21/2013
Howard Hord considers himself a chef of sorts, but the food he works with is a little past its prime. Using moldy melon rinds, orange peels and other castoff fruit and vegetables from some Howard County kitchens, Hord is "cooking" the first batches of plant fertilizer to be produced by the new composting facility at the county's Alpha Ridge landfill in Marriottsville, set to mark its official opening on Monday, Earth Day.

Black liquor’ deal goes sour

MD paper mill backtracks on compromise, fights to retain lucrative renewable energy credits
Baltimore Sun
Tim Wheeler
03/14/2013
A deal environmentalists thought had been worked out to stop mostly out-of-state paper mills from cashing in on Maryland's renewable energy law by burning so-called "black liquor" has come unglued. The state's only paper plant in Allegany County has backtracked on a pledge not to oppose the move in return for being allowed to keep collecting from the state's utility customers for another five years. The New Page mill in Luke and several others out of state have reaped millions of dollarsfrom Maryland ratepayers over the past eight years by taking advantage of an obscure provision in the "renewable portfolio standard" law, passed in 2004 to reduce the state's reliance on climate-warming fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas. Under the law, Maryland's electricity suppliers must increase the amount of power generated from renewable sources to 20 percent by 2022. They can either produce it themselves, or buy "renewable energy credits" from facilities generating power from a variety of specified sources, including wind, solar, geothermal and poultry manure. The state's electricity buyers pay for those credits through slightly higher rates. But the law also recognizes as renewable fuel wood scraps and a tarry substance known as "black liquor," a carbon-rich byproduct of the paper pulping process. As a result, the New Page mill and others in Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio get subsidies for what is a traditional industry practice of generating power for their plants by burning their waste products.

Black liquor' deal goes sour

MD paper mill backtracks on compromise, fights to retain lucrative renewable energy credits
Baltimore Sun
Tim Wheeler
03/14/2013
A deal environmentalists thought had been worked out to stop mostly out-of-state paper mills from cashing in on Maryland's renewable energy law by burning so-called "black liquor" has come unglued. The state's only paper plant in Allegany County has backtracked on a pledge not to oppose the move in return for being allowed to keep collecting from the state's utility customers for another five years. The New Page mill in Luke and several others out of state have reaped millions of dollarsfrom Maryland ratepayers over the past eight years by taking advantage of an obscure provision in the "renewable portfolio standard" law, passed in 2004 to reduce the state's reliance on climate-warming fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas. Under the law, Maryland's electricity suppliers must increase the amount of power generated from renewable sources to 20 percent by 2022. They can either produce it themselves, or buy "renewable energy credits" from facilities generating power from a variety of specified sources, including wind, solar, geothermal and poultry manure. The state's electricity buyers pay for those credits through slightly higher rates. But the law also recognizes as renewable fuel wood scraps and a tarry substance known as "black liquor," a carbon-rich byproduct of the paper pulping process. As a result, the New Page mill and others in Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio get subsidies for what is a traditional industry practice of generating power for their plants by burning their waste products.

Maryland delays growth pollution rules

Regulators need more time to set "offsets" for new development
Baltimore Sun
Tim Wheeler
11/29/2012
State rules requiring "offsets" for water pollution from new development have been delayed until next year, Maryland's top environmental regulator told lawmakers Wednesday. Although the regulations originally had been set for issuance by next month, Environment Secretary Robert M. Summers told members of House and Senate environment committees that there are "more details to be sorted out," mainly over a plan to let developers buy pollution "credits" elsewhere or pay a fee to the state for the costs of offsetting their projects' water-quality impacts. The growth-offset regulations are required under the Chesapeake Bay "pollution diet" that the Environmental Protection Agency has imposed on Maryland and the five other states in the bay watershed. A new state lawaimed at limiting development on septic systems also mandates pollution offsets for any large housing subdivision that would not be connected to a sewer system. Summers explained that offsets are needed to ensure that population growth and development don't undermine the states' efforts to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution fouling the bay.

Unusual weather worsened Chesapeake Bay’s health

Scientists grade Chesapeake's condition D+ in 2011
Baltimore Sun
Tim Wheeler
04/17/2012
Heavy spring rains, a hot summer and two major storms caused the Chesapeake Bay's overall health to worsen last year, scientists said Tuesday, though there apparently was a slight improvement in the Baltimore area's Patapsco and Back rivers, long considered among the bay's most degraded tributaries.

Unusual weather worsened Chesapeake Bay's health

Scientists grade Chesapeake's condition D+ in 2011
Baltimore Sun
Tim Wheeler
04/17/2012
Heavy spring rains, a hot summer and two major storms caused the Chesapeake Bay's overall health to worsen last year, scientists said Tuesday, though there apparently was a slight improvement in the Baltimore area's Patapsco and Back rivers, long considered among the bay's most degraded tributaries.