Law Offices of Roy L. Mason, P.A.

Annapolis Environmental Law Blog

A lot of manure: General Assembly wrestles with phosphorus runoff

The budget bill has moved to conference committee, where Maryland senators and delegates will hammer out their differences. At this point, it is difficult to say whether the phosphorus regulation provision we were discussing in our last post will stay in the bill. As history has proved, anything can happen in the last days of the session (the General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn on April 7).

The measure in question seeks to delay the implementation of regulations regarding phosphorus management until the Department of Agriculture has completed its economic impact study and the Senate Budget & Taxation Committee has had a chance to review the study. According to the primary sponsor of the provision, the department may continue to craft regulations during this period. The department would just not be able to issue and to enforce new regulations. It's a delay, not a ban.

Phosphorus regs ruffle feathers in General Assembly

There is a chicken crossing the road joke somewhere in here, but, really, the tension between Maryland's agriculture industry and environmentalists working to save Chesapeake Bay is nothing to joke about. If anything, the debate is heating up, especially at the General Assembly.

For example, a Senate provision in the state budget bill would put the brakes on the state's plan to issue regulations on phosphorus. The proposal would not kill the rulemaking effort altogether but would postpone implementation until the Department of Agriculture's completion of an economic impact study (targeted for December 2014, according to the bill). The proposal allows, too, a 45-day review period for the Budget & Taxation Committee; at the end of the review, the committee would issue recommendations for next steps.

Love thy neighbors, and try not to douse them with pesticides

There is something nostalgic about a working farm that sells its products locally. There may be an apple orchard where visitors can pick their own, or there may be a café that serves food made with produce. The farm stand by the side of the road conjures images of Norman Rockwell.

If only it were that easy. Nowadays, the East Coast and Mid-Atlantic states are so densely populated that these farms sit right next to housing developments. And that means that the residents have an increased risk of pesticide drift. Just ask one man who has struggled with his farming neighbor over the issue for 25 years.

Senate bill to ban fracking in Maryland dies in committee

There may be some irony in Maryland's struggles to manage water full of chemicals. The eastern counties argue over how to reduce the toxicity of runoff and how to keep it out of Chesapeake Bay. The western counties are arguing over the impact of pumping millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure into the earth to extract natural gas. The General Assembly finds itself in the unenviable position of addressing both sides of both issues during this session.

For the time being, it seems, the issue of hydraulic fracturing in natural gas mining is not open for debate. Six senators from eastern counties recently watched their proposal to ban fracking die in committee. Two committees, actually: The Finance Committee and the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee voted by large margins to kill the bill. As the senators were voting, a letter from Allegany County was making its way to Annapolis asking them to oppose the ban.

Is third time the charm in Carroll County 'garbage yard' cleanup? p2

We are continuing our discussion from our last post about a man in Carroll County, Maryland, who has been storing hundreds of tons of garbage on his property for three years. His property is zoned residential, and county officials have intervened a couple of times. In January, the court gave the man 30 days to clean up. The county also sold the property at a tax sale last summer.

For his part, the man says he had no idea that he couldn't keep the trash on his property. The trash is not his, strictly speaking. It belongs to his customers. He leases trash bins out and then hauls the trash away. The trash ended up in his yard only because he couldn't take it to the landfill. He has been barred from using the landfill since he failed to pay the tipping fee in 2010.

Is third time the charm in Carroll County 'garbage yard' cleanup?

A Carroll County man has been storing trash on his property for at least three years, creating a headache for state and county officials as well as a threat to the environment. This is not a few bags of garbage, officials say. The last cleanup, in 2011, netted 549 tons of trash.

The man's property is zoned as residential, and that means storing trash or junk is illegal. The first time the county intervened was 2010, when authorities obtained a court order requiring the homeowner to remove the trash. He complied, taking 181.5 tons of garbage to the landfill -- only to start amassing refuse again.

Will General Assembly run on about runoff this session?

In our Dec. 16, 2013, post, we talked about the nutrients in melting snow that contribute to the pollution in Chesapeake Bay. As we said, nutrients are chemicals that plant and animals need, and not all of them are man-made. A friend of ours likes to say, "Just because it's natural, doesn't mean it's good for ya."

For the past couple of years, the 10 largest jurisdictions in Maryland have been wrestling with federal requirements regarding storm water runoff and what some wags have dubbed the "rain tax." The Clean Air Act mandates that the states bordering Chesapeake Bay foot much of the bill for cleaning it up. In July 2013, the storm water runoff fee went into effect. Now that the General Assembly is back in session, opponents and proponents alike are wondering how or if lawmakers will address the fee.

Protesters to Maryland officials: Trash the trash incinerator

A group of students, their teachers and members of two local unions prepared for the holidays by staging a protest march in mid-December. Their target was Energy Answers International's Fairfield Renewable Energy Power Plant, the trash-to-energy incinerator planned for their South Baltimore neighborhood. As one of the teachers from the kids' high school said, they already breathe some of the most polluted air in Maryland, and putting the incinerator there adds insult to injury.

The students learned first-hand about the harm their neighbors have already suffered when they canvassed about 200 area residents. One protester said he had visited a classroom and asked the students to raise their hands if they had asthma. Every hand went up.

Would city actually build a school on a former toxic waste dump?

As our Maryland readers will remember, one of the worst natural disasters in the recent history of our nation came in the form of Hurricane Katrina, which lashed the coastal regions of the Gulf of Mexico in 2005. While the actual hurricane was quite devastating to the people who lived through it, the lasting effects of Katrina were perhaps more serious: homes, businesses and much of the city of New Orleans were uninhabitable and essentially written off.

Public buildings such as schools that managed to avoid immediate damage were nevertheless confronted with a post-Katrina reality where funds for basic maintenance were few and far between. The city also experienced a brain drain, as many qualified teachers and other workers left for more stable environments elsewhere.

Let it snow, let it snow - just not near Chesapeake Bay, please!

Kids in Baltimore were disappointed when the winter storm skirted the city over the weekend. Rain does not keep you home from school. Rain does not beckon you to a neighborhood sledding hill. Rain is, for the most part, just not as pretty as snow.

Snow may be pretty, but it's dangerous. And we aren't just talking about slippery sidewalks and snow-packed roads. Scientists remind us that a heavy snowfall in December can mean toxic algae blooms and dangerous levels of bacteria in the Chesapeake Bay come summer. A big Christmas Eve snowfall could mean a swimming ban in some areas come July.