Potomac Riverkeeper Network Legislative Priorities 2024

Maryland Department of the Environment

Maryland Priorities

The Clean Water Justice Act SB 653/HB1101

Senator Malcolm Augustine (D-47) Prince George’s County) & Delegate Sara Love (D-16 Montgomery County)

The Clean Water Justice Act would help to restore rights lost under the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Sackett v. EPA by giving Marylanders the right to enforce state clean water laws. As a result of the Sackett case in May of 2023, countless wetlands and streams that used to be subject to federal protections are now left to states to protect. When these streams and wetlands were federally protected, people harmed by illegal pollution could bring suit to enforce the law. While Maryland state law still protects those streams and wetlands, state law does not provide for community members harmed by illegal pollution to enforce the law – this bill will fix that and ensure that Marylanders can continue to protect themselves from illegal pollution in the same manner that they were able to before this decision. These third-party enforcement actions would now be in state court and require the same showing of standing as is required at the federal level. 

Fact Sheet for additional information and the infographic for a shorter version. 

Environmental Justice Permitting HB0024 (SB0096) 

Senator Michael Jackson (D-27 Calvert, Charles, & Prince George’s Counties) Delegate Regina T. Boyce (D-43A Baltimore County) 

Building on previous legislation PRKN worked to pass that requires public notice of environmental justice impacts for new and renewed environmental permits, this bill will authorize Maryland Department of the Environment to deny or modify certain environmental permits if its review of those permits shows that the proposed discharge will add to the pollution burden suffered by underserved communities. This bill supports PRKN’s priorities to advance environmental equity, improves health and health outcomes and reduces and removes environmental injustices caused by past and current permitting decisions to underserved and overburdened communities. 

 Fact Sheet for additional information.

Clean Up Your Ash – Coal Ash Assessment, Extraction and Recycling

Delegate Mary Lehman (D-21 Prince George’s County)

Coal-fired power plants are closed and closing throughout the state, and the utilities are planning to leave all their pollution in place where it will leak into surface waters and groundwater, threatening public health and the environment. The bill will require utilities to identify all their onsite and off-site coal ash disposal sites, identify known and potential leaks of contamination to ground and surface water, and develop and submit closure plans for these coal ash storage sites with excavation of the coal ash for disposal in a double-lined landfill or for recycling into concrete for encapsulated beneficial reuse.  When used in concrete, the hazardous chemicals in coal ash are bound and do not leach into the environment. The bill would prioritize encapsulated beneficial reuse of coal ash for development of concrete.  The bill would also create a community advisory and oversight committee in impacted communities and prioritize hiring of local community members for these cleanup projects.

Stopping PFAS at the Source SB 956/ HB 1153

Senator Katie Fry-Hester (D- 9 Carroll and Howard Counties), Delegate Sara Love (D-16 Montgomery County)

This bill will require monitoring of PFAS from industrial users who discharge into publicly owned treatment works, and the development of a discharge limit that will be included in their pretreatment permit issued either by the Maryland Department of the Environment, or the publicly owned treatment works that receive the industrial discharge. This is consistent with PRKN’s policy of stopping pollution at the source and would also prevent the cost-shifting that would happen if the pollution is not removed until it reaches the drinking water systems, where the costs would fall on rate payers. The industrial users who are polluting our waters with PFAS should be held responsible for eliminating this risk to public health and paying for the cost of that treatment.  

Preventing plastics at the source: we are supporting two bills in Maryland on this goal

  • Maryland Beverage Container Recycling Refund and Litter Reduction Program, SB0642 would reduce the use of single-use plastics by adding a small deposit to the price of glass, plastics and metal beverage containers. This fee would be used to incentivize recycling, as Marylanders are currently recycling only 20% of the bottles sold in the state.  
  • Single Use Water Bottles and Water Refill Stations,  HB0841 requires water bottle refill stations to be included in all new buildings that are already required by plumbing code to install water fountains. This will help reduce plastic waste. 

Whole Watershed Act 

The bill is responsive to the Comprehensive Evaluation of System Response (CESR) report, which was issued in May of 2023, and which concluded, in part, that cleanup efforts could be more effective if they focused on reducing pollution in the shallow waters of the Bay and its tributaries rather than the deep channel. While much of this bill will not have a significant impact on the Potomac River, several aspects are of interest to PRKN, including support for freshwater mussels restoration as a water quality improvement measure, funding for water quality monitoring, and a commitment to Justice 40 principles by providing 40% of funding to overburdened communities in Maryland. 

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality

Virginia Priorities 

PFAS Assessment, Monitoring and Community Advisory 

SB 243 Senator McPike (D-29 Part of Prince William County and Stafford County), HB 1085 Delegate Sam Rasoul (D-38 City of Roanoke), Senator Marsden, Delegate Bulova

These bills begin to address the threat of Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a class of synthetic chemicals that do not easily break down in the environment but instead build up and persist in our bodies, water, soil, and wildlife, earning them the nickname “forever chemicals.” These bills will require monitoring for PFAS in Virginia’s public drinking water supplies using EPA methods and PFAS assessments where drinking water exceeds EPA’s proposed public-health based limits. Where testing shows levels of PFAS in drinking water above EPA’s current proposed drinking water limit of 4 ppt, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (“DEQ”) will begin a PFAS Assessment, requiring upstream monitoring of potential significant sources of PFAS through self-reporting from industrial facilities as well as monitoring of wastewater treatment plants and other potential dischargers. Additionally, DEQ will establish a PFAS Advisory Committee to review data and make recommendations on PFAS. 

Pay for Performance 

This amendment provides $20M for the establishment of a pay-for-outcomes pilot program to accelerate nutrient reductions and improve living resource outcomes in meeting Chesapeake Bay restoration goals.  While PRKN supports this budget amendment as necessary to achieve the pollutant reductions necessary to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, we also have questions as to how exactly the Commonwealth will verify that the promised nonpoint source pollutant reductions are being achieved and make payments based upon those pollutant reductions.  We view this bill as a tacit admission that current best management practice (BMP) and cost-share programs are failing to obtain the nitrogen and phosphorus reductions required in order to achieve Virginia’s agreed-upon Chesapeake Bay cleanup goals. 

Wetland Delineations HB 1182 

The House of Delegates General Laws subcommittee took what started out as a bad bill that we strongly opposed because it significantly weakened professional wetland delineator certification requirements. Amendments were proposed, and we believe that these weakening sections have all been removed, except for one that made the requirements consistent with other states’ laws. Assuming the bill remains this way, we will no longer oppose it but will continue to watch it closely throughout the legislative session.  Last year, we had the Sackett v. EPA case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, and the court removed federal protection from large areas of our nation’s wetlands. Consequently, it’s becoming even more important that these wetland delineators are skilled in what they do in order to continue to protect Virginia water and wetlands. 

Budget Priorities

Agricultural Cost-Share

Agriculture is the largest source of nitrogen and phosphorus, or nutrient pollution, in the Shenandoah River and the Chesapeake Bay. To help the agricultural sector meet nutrient reduction goals, the state of Virginia established the Virginia cost-share program to help thousands of farmers adopt conservation practices by providing state funding for a significant portion of installation costs. Unfortunately, this bill has been underfunded for years, resulting in an extension of two years to meet these deadlines. In 2022 and 2023, the program was fully funded and we are strongly in favor of full funding for the program this year to ensure that these nutrient reductions can continue. 

Wetlands Delineations

With the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Sackett v. EPA last year, federal jurisdiction on waterways was greatly reduced. The state of Virginia has always depended on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for wetlands delineations; in other words, determining which wetlands were protected under the Clean Water Act and would require a permit before they were filled. Virginia has a broader definition of Waters of the State of Virginia than the now federal definition; however, there are no personnel within the Department of Environmental Quality to conduct these wetlands delineations or even to review those submitted by a developer. We recommended a budget increase of $7 million dollars for VDEQ to hire and train new personnel.