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General Assembly keeps green-energy subsidy for incinerator, kills other environmental bills

A challenging General Assembly session for environmental groups ended with the failure of two key proposals — one to measure the loss of Maryland forests and another to end green-energy subsidies for a Baltimore trash incinerator.

Neither bill came up for votes in the state Senate on Monday, the last day of the legislature’s 90-day lawmaking session.

The last-minute legislative defeats followed several other losses earlier in the year: the General Assembly shot down proposals to grow the state’s supply of renewable energy and to enact bans on polystyrene foam and a harmful pesticide known as chlorpyrifos.

Alison Prost, Maryland executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said she expected state lawmakers to be more eager to act on environmental issues, given that many of them expressed concerns that President Donald Trump has weakened some federal clean air and water standards.

“I am puzzled by the lack of priority given to the environment given that you can’t go far in Maryland without being near the water,” Prost said.

Lawmakers did not ignore the environment altogether. They passed proposals to protect the state from the possible harms of offshore oil and gas drilling and to preserve efforts to build wind farms off the state’s coast.

But environmentalists classified those measures as defensive moves to prevent further pollution, instead of efforts to more aggressively clean the Chesapeake Bay and slow global climate change.

“There were certainly some disappointments,” said Kristen Harbeson, political director for the Maryland League of Conservation Voters.

Environmental advocacy groups urged the General Assembly this year to close loopholes in state forest conservation laws that have allowed the clearing of some of Maryland’s largest and most dense forests — in some cases without requirements to replant any trees. Developers and county and municipal governments disagreed with elements of the proposal that would have made construction projects and tree planting efforts more expensive and logistically challenging.

And there was disagreement over whether forest loss is occurring.

Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration says the state’s tree canopy is growing, but environmental groups say that doesn’t take into account the higher ecological value of dense forests.

As a result, the bill was watered down to simply require the state to collect more data on forest losses. But that measure came one vote shy of final passage in the Senate on Monday.

“This was just trying to get us the data needed to answer the tough policy questions,” Prost said. “And the General Assembly couldn’t get it done.”

Days earlier, the Senate passed a bill that would have removed a “green energy” label from trash incinerators like a facility in Baltimore. Doing so would have stripped the incinerator of millions of dollars in subsidies paid through Marylanders’ electricity bills.

A recent Baltimore Sun investigation showed that a state renewable energy program sends millions of dollars to paper mills and trash incinerators that produce greenhouse gases and pollution.

But the measure did not advance to the floor of the House of Delegates in the session’s final days.

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