Hogan cancels O'Malley-era 'zero waste' plan

Gov. Larry Hogan said Tuesday night that he has canceled "zero-waste" landfill rules issued by Gov. Martin O'Malley a week before he left office in 2015.

Speaking to the annual summer gathering of the Maryland Municipal League, the Republican governor said he was rescinding the policy in response to complaints from local governments.

Hogan told the group of town and city officials that his Democratic predecessor's action "usurped local authority" and "created overflowing landfills and unnecessary hardships for local governments."

"We are replacing that last-minute, ill-conceived and poorly devised policy with a common-sense, balanced approach to managing waste in Maryland," he said.

Hogan said his action lifts a moratorium on permits for new landfills and sets "achievable" goals for recycling.

Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said Hogan ought to reconsider and join other states trying to implement zero-waste policies.

"It sounds as if not only trash but also policy would now be moving in exactly the wrong direction," she said. "I find that an unwise decision, which sounds very Trump-ian, and I hope the governor will reconsider and help us bring Maryland back into its unity with other states across the nation who are trying to save the environment through zero waste policies."

O'Malley adopted the plan with the goal of virtually eliminating the placement of waste in Maryland landfills within 25 years. His administration contended that curbing waste disposal in landfills could save taxpayers money, conserve energy and reduce pollution.

His plan came in response to reports that Marylanders were throwing away more trash per person than the typical American.

In announcing the plan, O'Malley described it as "an ambitious policy framework to create green jobs and business opportunities while doing away with the inefficient waste disposal practices that threaten our future."

The "zero-waste" goal actually called for diverting 85 percent of the trash now going to landfills to other means of disposal by 2040. The plan also called for state government to achieve a mandatory recycling rate of 65 percent by 2020.

At the time, environmentalists gave the plan mixed reviews. They praised the proposal for expanded recycling but criticized O'Malley's emphasis on increasing the amount of garbage burned to generate energy.

In his speech, Hogan decried the O'Malley rule as a "burdensome regulation." Earlier in his administration, Hogan also scrapped O'Malley rules requiring extensive use of the best available technologies for septic systems.

Ben Grumbles, the state secretary of the environment, said the executive order on waste lays out a "collaborative" process that focuses on meeting realistic goals.

He said the policy will focus on reducing, reusing and recycling materials.

The secretary said the administration will not introduce a new rule.

"We're not changing the law but we're changing the policy to be more collaborative," he said.

Grumbles said the new policy will help the state meet its existing recycling goals.

The executive order Hogan signed Tuesday was one of two he announced to the gathering of municipal officials.

The governor also issued an order creating an Office of Rural Broadband to promote high-speed internet connections throughout Maryland. Hogan said he will appoint a director to lead those efforts and to work with state agencies and local governments to develop a plan for statewide access.

The governor said the office will coordinate with the Rural Maryland Council created by the Connecting Rural Maryland Act, which the General Assembly passed this year and Hogan signed a few weeks ago.

Scott Hancock, director of the municipal league, said his members are more focused on local highway aid than on waste management.

"It's a county function in Maryland. There are no city landfills," Hancock said. He noted that Baltimore City is the exception.

Hogan did say in his speech that he was in favor of restoring highway user revenue for counties and municipalities to past levels. Such aid was cut under the O'Malley administration during the recession.

The governor has proposed to increase the aid in recent years only to see it cut by the General Assembly. There are no signs that lawmakers are prepared to support a significant increase next year.

mdresser@baltsun.com

twitter.com/michaeltdresser

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