The 90-day legislative session in Annapolis wrapped up at midnight Monday to mixed reviews among environmental advocates, who hailed the passage of a bill promoting offshore wind development but had little else to celebrate.
Gov. Martin O'Malley, who had pushed for the bill offering state incentives to put turbines off the Maryland coast, was scheduled to sign it Tuesday. Karla Raettig, executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, called its passage "a great day for democracy," while Tommy Landers of Environment Mary land praised it as a "landmark victory for our climate and for our children and grandchildren."
Environmentalists saw many of their other legislative priorities watered down or killed outright, including proposals to curb littering by levying a nickel fee on plastic merchandise bags and charging a nickel deposit on beverage containers. Legislation to ban or impose a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas also failed, though a couple measures to initiate protections aginst drilling if it ever begins in Maryland did pass.
Other bills backed by environmental groups got weakened or transformed into something activists turned against. A measure that would have required annual reporting of commercial and farm pesticide use was converted to a study instead.
Another bill aimed at strengthening a year-old law meant to raise revenue for the Chesapeake Bay cleanup got "hijacked," in the words of its House sponsors, by Senate leaders who gutted the mesure and turned it into a bill delaying any fees for two years. Though the postponement passed the Senate easily, it died in the House without a vote.
Environmental activists expressed relief at the death in the House of a bill drafted by a trash incinerator company that would have required Maryland's localities to divert their waste from landfills. The Senate converted the measure to a study, but the House did not act on it.
Yet another bill that drew a mostly negative reaction from environmentalists will grant Maryland farmers a 10-year reprieve from new bay cleanup requirements if they agree to do more than is currently required of them. The "agricultural certainty" bill had the support of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, but virtually every other green group opposed the bill. It passed easily.
The conservation league's Raetig said most activists were disappointed by the session's overall results, but suggested they would try to use lawmakers' votes this session in next year's elections. She said activists would be "gearing up to bring more environmental champions to the legislature in 2014."