It’s the Best Day of the Year- the beginning of Session!

Kristen Harbeson, Political Director

By Kristen Harbeson, Political Director

I always get a charge out of the first day of Session.  There is a “back to school” feel to the campus, as everyone returns to the halls of Annapolis with big dreams and freshly minted New Year Resolutions.  Many legislators are returning with new committee assignments or leadership appointments, so they will be finding their way to new offices and learning the ropes of new policy briefs. Six new members (five in the House of Delegates and one in the Senate) – will be moving into their offices for the first time, and both the House and Senate will have new faces behind the rostrum, gaveling their chambers to order. And, of course, there are changes in the environmental community, with new leadership in many partner organizations – including our own!

The energy around a new session is electric – but it is only a matter of hours after the rush of greetings before everyone buckles down for work. I look at my newly polished shoes and know that at the end of 90-days, they will have traversed miles and climbed mountains (all within the same ¼ mile and three buildings), in the interest of pursuing strong environmental policy. The notebook where I keep a record of meetings and conversations, currently crisp and empty, will be full. I will be a stranger to the desk in my office, in favor of the floors outside of the committee rooms.

Over the next 90-days, I’ll be updating you weekly on the stories from the halls of Annapolis, and giving you a look behind the scenes at my life as a lobbyist for “The Political Voice of the Environment,” and help to pull back the curtain of how bills become laws here in Maryland.  I hope you’ll take this as an opportunity to ask questions as we go along, and as we work together to pass ground-breaking environmental legislation. Don’t forget to sign up to receive our weekly “hotlist” of legislation we’re tracking (or you can find it here: https://www.mdlcv.org/weekly-hotlist).  I can’t wait to hear from you!

Thinking of Running for Office? LCV can help!

We’re partnering with LCV national and re:power to train people to run in down-ballot races across the United States. Are you up for the challenge? 

2020 could be the year you run for office — and we want to help. 

For the first time in its history, LCV is holding a non-partisan Candidate Academy to teach the ins and outs of running for office. 

This exclusive program, in partnership with re:power, will give diverse environmental leaders who are passionate about their communities the tools they need to run — and win. 

We all succeed when individuals who are passionate about the environment and addressing climate change take the leap and run for office.  If that sounds like you, then we want you to apply today! 

Apply to be a part of LCV’s first-ever Candidate Academy >>

The deadline to apply is January 10, 2020. The training will take place in February and March in Seattle. Space is extremely limited, so apply today! If you are selected, we will be in touch with you soon on next steps. 

For questions, contact Shanthi Gonzales at LCV (sgonzales@lcv.org)

By |2020-01-07T17:37:01-05:00January 7th, 2020|Categories: Blog|Tags: , |Comments Off on Thinking of Running for Office? LCV can help!

Statement from Kim Coble, Executive Director, Maryland LCV

January 3, 2020

Immediate Release

Press Contact: Dannielle Lipinski, dlipinski@mdlcv.org, 443-617-7257

Statement from Kim Coble, Executive Director, Maryland League of Conservation Voters in response to:

Environmental Protection Agency’s comment at today’s Chesapeake Bay Commission meeting that the Chesapeake Bay TMDL (the Bay clean up plan) is an “aspirational document” not a regulatory document. 

“This is a profoundly sad and disappointing moment in Bay history. After decades of leadership on Bay clean up efforts, we are watching the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) turn its back and walk away from the Chesapeake Bay. EPA is abdicating its role and responsibility by treating the Bay clean up plan as an ‘aspirational document’ and not as the effective model it has been recognized as and proved to be. Maryland LCV is calling on Governor Hogan, as the Chair of the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council, to coordinate an immediate and robust response to EPA’s abdication of its responsibility.”

Under the current clean up plan, Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania must develop and fully implement their pollution reduction plans by 2025. This would ensure the ultimate removal of the Chesapeake Bay from the list of dirty waters (the 303d list) https://www.epa.gov/tmdl/overview-listing-impaired-waters-under-cwa-section-303d. The state clean up plans, collectively known as the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, have been touted as the most effective and successful environmental clean up effort in the country.

# # #

Maryland League of Conservation Voters (Maryland LCV) is a state-wide nonpartisan organization that uses political action and education to protect our air, land, public health, and water. Maryland LCV endorses and elects pro-conservation candidates and holds elected officials accountable through legislative scorecards. A leading legislative watchdog in Annapolis, we have advocated for smart environmental policies for 40 years, working to make Maryland a healthy and prosperous place for families and communities. Maryland LCV protects public health by fighting for restoration of the Chesapeake Bay and local waters, preserving green spaces, promoting smarter growth and increasing Maryland’s investment in clean energy.

 

www.mdlcv.org

By |2020-01-14T00:11:28-05:00January 3rd, 2020|Categories: Blog, Press|0 Comments

The 2019 Environmental Scorecard is here!

By Kristen Harbeson, Political Director

Check out your legislators’ scores and our interactive map!

And it’s all thanks to you. Maryland became the first state to pass a statewide ban on Styrofoam food service products, and Maryland is facing the climate crisis head-on with the passage of the Clean Energy Jobs Act.

Environmental champions also took up the work of Chispa Maryland, the organization’s Latinx outreach program, to pass legislation that creates a permanent grant structure to fund the transition of Maryland’s school bus fleet from diesel to electric-powered.

These bills are supported by you, and strong community-led coalitions with broad legislative support that our elected officials recognized. See how your legislators scored here>>

It’s time for us all to work together as the urgency of the climate crisis becomes more apparent with every passing day. All of these bills passed because of the work that Marylanders did in electing Delegates and Senators who prioritize a clean environment.

Once our elected officials return to Annapolis in January, we at Maryland LCV will be there to hold them accountable for their actions, or inactions.

The full Scorecard is available online and includes records of votes cast on the floor of the House and Senate and in committees, along with past voting records.

Go to http://mdlcv.org/scorecards to see the 2019 Scorecard, our interactive map, and follow #MDLCVScore on social media.

Thank you for being a part of the Conservation Voter Movement!

By |2019-12-12T13:46:25-05:00October 3rd, 2019|Categories: Blog|0 Comments

Great news! Our 2019 John V. Kabler Awardee is Announced!

Maryland League of Conservation Voters is pleased to announce that Robert P. Gallagher is this year’s John V. Kabler Memorial Award winner. 

Bob is an outstanding advocate on environmental issues in Maryland and Anne Arundel County, and co-founder of the Anne Arundel Chapter of Maryland LCV.

Bob developed his life-long passion for clean water at an early age while exploring in boats. He has sailed all over the Chesapeake as well as across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. When he retired from a legal career 15 years ago, he founded West/Rhode Riverkeeper and went on to leadership roles in a long list of other local and statewide environmental groups including Waterkeepers Chesapeake, Scenic Rivers Land Trust, Annapolis Green, Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition, Delmarva Land and Litter Challenge, and served from 2009 until 2018 on the board of Maryland League of Conservation Voters.  

In 2009, with the late Kincey Potter, Bob co-founded the Anne Arundel Chapter of Maryland LCV to bring the same accountability to elected county officials that Maryland LCV has brought to Maryland state elected officials. By every measure that effort proved successful.

“Bob’s devotion to the health of the Chesapeake Bay, its watershed and its residents began in his youth in the waters off St. Mary’s County and continues today on both the Western and Eastern Shores of our beloved estuary,” remarked Charles Porcari, Interim Director of Maryland League of Conservation Voters (LCV).  

“His countless hours of service to a remarkable array of environmental organizations offer irrefutable testimony to this lawyers’ volunteer efforts.”

Following the 2018 elections, LCV endorsed candidates who now occupy the office of the County Executive and five of the seven seats on the County Council. The group’s work also sparked Maryland LCV’s work in other strategically selected local elections. In the spirit of John Kabler, Bob has demonstrated that you don’t need to be a lobbyist, CEO, or politician to affect environmental policy. Bob and his wife Cate reside in Annapolis.

The Kabler Award will be officially presented to Mr. Gallagher during the annual Maryland LCV Environmental Leadership Awards Dinner on Thursday, October 24 at the Westin Annapolis, beginning at 6:00 in the evening.

We hope you will join us for this celebration of our environmental achievements and a robust discussion of the work ahead. Other 2019 awardees include Climate Champion Senator Brian Feldman and Legislators of the year, Senator Cheryl Kagan and Delegate Brooke Lierman.

By |2019-12-07T09:51:07-05:00September 25th, 2019|Categories: Blog|0 Comments

Introducing our New Executive Director, Kim Coble

By Ed Hatcher, Maryland LCV Board Chair

I am thrilled to announce that Kim Coble, one of Maryland’s most respected environmentalists, will be the new executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters. She will assume her new duties on October 15th.

Kim was the unanimous choice of our selection committee which has spent the last few weeks vetting and interviewing an amazing selection of outstanding candidates. In the end, we felt that Kim’s breadth of experience, significant management skills and inspiring vision for the organization made her an ideal candidate. We are thrilled to have her lead the organization as we seek to build on recent legislative triumphs and elevate Maryland to being a top-tier state in the effort to combat the climate crisis.

Many of you are very familiar with Kim’s important work in the environment space.

Most recently, Kim served as the Chief Operating Officer at US SIF: The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment. US SIF is a non-profit whose mission is to rapidly shift investment practices towards sustainability, focusing on long term investment and the generation of positive social and environmental impacts. In her role as COO, she oversaw the organization’s operations and helped develop its three-year strategic plan.

Prior to her role at US SIF, Kim worked at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, including eight years as the Maryland Executive Director and then six years as Vice President of Environmental Protection and Restoration where she oversaw CBF’s policy, outreach and restoration work throughout the watershed. Kim was selected as one of Maryland’s Top 100 Women in 2015, appointed as an Admiral of the Chesapeake Bay, served as the Valedictorian of her Leadership Maryland class and has been a member of the State Ethics Commission since 2015.

Please join us on October 24th to celebrate Maryland LCV’s 40th Anniversary and to welcome Kim aboard.

By |2019-12-07T10:52:43-05:00September 19th, 2019|Categories: Blog|0 Comments

Maryland’s Bay Clean Up Plan Lags Behind

By Ben Alexandro, Water Program Director and Katlyn Schmitt of WaterKeepers Chesapeake

Published on Maryland Matters on September 10, 2019

The Chesapeake Bay states recently released their final Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs), which are federally required to demonstrate how each state will meet its clean water commitments for restoring the Bay by 2025.

The multi-state clean-up effort, officially known as the Chesapeake Bay TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load), was a response to the Bay’s steady decline in health almost a decade ago — with widespread dead zones and a steep decline in fish and shellfish populations. The Bay’s poor health at the time was a result of about three decades’ worth of voluntary agreements that were not adequately enforced or implemented by Bay states.

Now, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan  is calling on Pennsylvania to step up its cleanup efforts. And while we commend Governor Hogan for holding other states accountable, Maryland’s own plan is far from perfect.

In fact, Maryland lags far behind Virginia and the District of Columbia in progress toward reducing nitrogen pollution. Maryland’s plan claims it will exceed its 2025 target but it gives few details on what the state will change in order to get there, especially given the all-time low level of staffing at state agencies.

In the past decade, we’ve seen encouraging signs that the Bay is recovering, including an increase in blue crabs and aquatic grasses. But the states must ramp up this work through 2025 and beyond so we don’t lose the progress we’ve made under the Chesapeake Bay TMDL so far.

For a reminder of how fragile the recovery is, look at the massive dead zones plaguing the Bay this year,  the result both of flagging progress by key states and the more frequent, intense rainfalls climate scientists have been warning would afflict our region.

While Maryland has more ambitious goals than Pennsylvania overall, it offers few details on how it expects to increase the rate of the state’s cleanup by six times the current efforts. Maryland’s plan primarily outlines programs and plans already in place and offers little new in programs or funding.

In fact, the plan claims the state has enough funding already — despite the fact that, for the past two years, Maryland counties and dozens of nonprofit organizations have been telling the Maryland Department of the Environment they need more funding, capacity, and technical assistance to be successful. The plan also admits population growth, forest loss, and climate change are challenges that it does not have additional capacity to address.

By 2025, climate change impacts in Maryland are expected to dump more than 2.2 million pounds of nitrogen and 114,000 pounds of phosphorus in the Bay. Maryland committed to drafting another plan in 2022 to address this additional pollution, but that only gives Maryland three years to reduce the expected pollution. Virginia specifically adjusted its pollution reduction targets to account for additional pollution from climate change; Maryland should have done the same.

Maryland’s plan also lags behind Virginia when it comes to incentivizing permanent practices on agricultural land, such as stream reforestation, wetland restoration, and grazing conservation. Forest buffers are one of the most effective ways to prevent nitrogen pollution from entering local waterways, but Maryland only expects to have about one-fifth of the forest buffers for which Virginia has planned.

Maryland has ambitious targets for agriculture pollution reduction, but it focuses too much on funding temporary, annual practices, like cover crops. Only permanent practices would ensure that agricultural pollution remain low after 2025.

To achieve the 2025 goals, the Chesapeake Bay not only needs results from each state, there must also be a clear plan with the necessary resources, regulations, and assistance. But while Maryland included statewide pollution reduction targets for each sector, it did not include any local numeric county-level planning targets that would create clear lines of accountability and transparency. Pollution projections for counties are useful but do not provide clear targets with clear plans to produce clear results.

We’re glad Maryland has committed to its 2025 goals, but it needs to show how it will provide the necessary funding and capacity currently lacking. It’s time Maryland got serious about its clean-up plans and stop pushing the hard work down the road. With increasing extreme weather events and rising sea levels, we don’t have time to waste.

By |2019-12-07T09:37:49-05:00September 10th, 2019|Categories: Blog|0 Comments

Remembering Kim Lamphier

Written By Kristen Harbeson

There is an ecology to Annapolis; to the people who move through the halls of the office buildings, who are on Lawyers Mall, who move through the hearing rooms, legislative offices, and reception rooms.  Every departure changes the ecosystem, and never more cruelly than through illness and death. Maryland has lost a tremendous advocate, and her absence will be felt by everyone in the environmental community. 

Kim Lamphier died on Friday, August 30th after a year-long struggle with cancer, which took a sudden and fierce turn for the worse in the last weeks. 

Over the years, Kim worked on issues relating to small businesses, bicycle safety, wildlife protection, criminal justice reform and promoting youth participation in government. She worked on the campaigns of some of Maryland’s luminary political figures at all levels of government. In her last year, in her roles with Trash Free Maryland and Bike Maryland, she was the principal advocate for two major legislative victories – the first statewide Styrofoam ban in the country and a bill that guarantees funding for Maryland’s Bikeways Network program. She worked to secure these victories, even as she was recovering from three months of intensive chemotherapy treatment and post-surgery physical therapy. She was an indomitable force.  

Kim took pride in her work as an effective advocate, but also found joy in the work.  She celebrated the victories of her friends and colleagues as much as her own, and her friends and colleagues were legion.  Kim knew everyone, and everyone she met became her friend. The ecology of Annapolis can seem like a jungle, but Kim always made us remember that even as we fight for survival, the jungle can be fun.

When the Statewide Styrofoam ban goes into effect next year, remember and celebrate Kim Lamphier.

When you are enjoying the pedestrian and bike infrastructure in Maryland, remember and celebrate Kim Lamphier.

She was a dedicated friend to Maryland LCV and its staff.  We will miss her, even as we continue her work.

By |2019-12-07T09:40:56-05:00September 3rd, 2019|Categories: Blog|0 Comments

May the Forest Be With Us!

By Ben Alexandro, Water Policy Advocate

This legislative session, we saw huge wins in Maryland for the environment. We banned Styrofoam take out containers, paved a path for Maryland to produce 100 percent renewable energy by 2040, and protected oyster sanctuaries. But while these grabbed headlines, the two bills I am the most proud of are two small forest bills that you might not have even heard of. One provides for a study of forest loss in Maryland and the other fixes a loophole in Maryland’s Forest Conservation Act. Why are these so important to me? They hit close to home.

Seeing the forest for the trees

I’ve always loved the view from my bedroom – just over the property line is a tiny forest of glittering green leaves and bouncing squirrels that saved me from peering into the rowhomes behind mine. I was looking forward to teaching my new son the names of the birds flitting among the branches as my dad taught me. I’ll always remember the moments trimming back the invasive English ivy lapping up the sides of the trees with my dad as we talked about being a good man, the future, and nothing at all. In a few short years I could start to teach my son about this little patch of nature that gives us so much: air to breathe, water to drink, shade in the summer, and protection from floods. But one spring day last year, ironically while I was researching forest policy for work, I heard the buzz of a chainsaw and saw my favorite blue jay fly frantically from her nest as one tree top after another disappeared from my window view. Within minutes, I could see through the last few trees to realize just how close the neighbors live to me.

I went out and asked the tree crew why they were taking down my little forest. They said someone at the HOA said it looked overgrown. The HOA later said that they did not think the trees needed to be removed, but by then it was too late. It might just be coincidence, but soon after the trees which drank so much water came down, my basement started having new flooding and mold issues. Meanwhile, two blocks away where I used to jog, dozens of acres of forests were being plowed down for a new development. Soon after the local forest was paved over, our neighborhood was plagued with rats, potentially fleeing from the felled forests with nowhere else to go. More forests were coming down on the surrounding roads to make room for new gas stations. As the developments rose, so did the congestion, and now I wait in 45 minutes of traffic on my way home on a once beautiful country road. My little wooded corner of Maryland is changing fast, and I was learning that my story in my town of Crofton was not unique.

When we see forests come down in our neighborhoods, many of us think the same things- Did they have to take down this forest? Were the developers trying to protect as much of the forest as they could? Are trees at least being replanted somewhere else? At Maryland LCV, I often get voters calling us to ask these questions. Unfortunately, when investigating each incident, I usually hit one wall after another. The more I investigate deforestation in Maryland, the more frustrating and complicated it seems.

The Forest Conservation Act falls short

For years, Maryland has had a landmark Forest Conservation Act and a ‘no net loss of forest’ goal on the books. Under the Forest Conservation Act, developers are supposed to have a forest conservation plan and at least protect or replant an acre for every four they chop down where possible. If they cannot replant or retain forests themselves, they have to pay their county government a ‘fee-in-lieu’ to replant or protect forests elsewhere. The ‘no net loss’ goal is supposed to keep the level of forested land in Maryland at 40 percent across the whole state. However, there are a lot of loopholes and problems with how the laws are working. 

The Forest Conservation Act is not functioning as it should. According to a study by the University of Maryland, our oldest, most contiguous, and highest quality forests are the least protected by the Forest Conservation Act. I talked to several county foresters and planners who also are frustrated with the current program. For example, developers must only maintain the forest for a few short years, then there is often nothing stopping vines or other invaders from choking out the forest. There is also almost no transparency required in the system. Some counties proactively have more stringent local ordinances, but in many counties, it is nearly impossible to see the forest conservation plan that developers are supposed to have or even to learn how the counties are using these forest funds they have been collecting. In some counties, literally millions of dollars have piled up in funds from developers preferring to pay fee-in-lieu rather than try to build around trees. In some cases, there are hardly any real county plans to use the money to replant or protect forests at all. In some cases, developers have been able to pay far less than what it costs to plant or protect a forest in that county. There was even a scandal where my previous county executive allegedly gave a huge amount of money meant to protect hundreds or thousands of acres to a personal friend for a small plot of land called Turtle Run.

Hogan’s ‘no net loss’ loophole

The Hogan administration has also exploited a loophole in the ‘no net loss’ of forest law to count every single area with a tree as a forest- even a single tree in a box in the middle of a parking lot could be counted as a forest. By counting tree canopy including every street tree as a forest, suddenly Maryland is 10% above its 40% forest cover goal and the administration said there is no problem and nothing to worry about. For years, the Hogan administration has claimed that we don’t have enough data to prove we are losing forests and there is no way of knowing where the problem is coming from or the best way to solve it. 

Real forest loss

The truth is Maryland is constantly losing forests. According to the best available computer models at the Chesapeake Bay Program, we are losing on average a dozen acres of forests a day in Maryland and could lose 34,000 or more more by 2025. The individual county Forest Conservation Act annual reports only capture a small fraction of this loss, but even these incomplete plans show that developers removed a net of 17,168 acres from 2008 to 2016 without replanting them. 

Fighting for the Forests

I was angry, and I was not alone. In fact, independent polling this year shows support among Maryland’s voters for saving forests and protecting trees. 84% of Marylander’s think it is important to save Maryland’s forests even if a development project must move or cost more. Marylander’s have had enough.

More and more nonprofits around Maryland were becoming concerned about this forest loss. By partnering with Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and Choose Clean Water Coalition, we organized dozens of organizations and over 100 grassroots organizers meeting regularly to strategize and share knowledge. It was time to change some laws. This legislative session, Elaine Lutz at CBF tirelessly led advocacy efforts every day in the halls of Annapolis, met with legislators and kept everyone up to date on the constant shifts and maneuvering through the State House. We had thousands of people sign petitions, call and email their elected officials, and many even came to Annapolis to talk to their legislators face to face. In fact, last year several officials noted they got more calls about forest conservation than any other issue. Not just traditional environmental organizations like Audubon Naturalist Society and Arundel Rivers Federation were fired up, but the faith community was incredibly active and effective as well thanks to the expert leadership of Jodi Rose at Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake. Different organizations and activists each had a key role to play. Choose Clean Water Coalition was also very useful in providing media and communications assistance throughout the process. I was honored to be able to help coordinate the efforts and add a bit of my own flair. As a true geek and Star Wars fan, I decided to end every meeting, call and email with a simple uplifting message: May the Forest be With Us!

The Developers Strike Back

There was enormous pressure on legislators from the big money developer lobby to stop substantive forest legislation. This lobby stops forest legislation year after year, and this year killed the bill to fix the ‘no net loss’ loophole. These lobbyists confused elected officials with falsehoods and misconstrued data, and they reminded legislators just how much money this lobby puts into their campaigns. 

Our Work Pays Off!

Despite the big money, we emerged victorious last month in two of our three forest bills. HB272/SB234 finally fixes the fee-in-lieu system. Now a county can only accept the money from a developer if the county has a plan for how to use it. The counties will have to make their deals much more transparent and publish a public plan every year. This bill was passed with near unanimous vote and supported by the Maryland Association of Counties. Finally, we should start seeing real forests being replanted and protected as the Forest Conservation Act should have been doing all along.

The second bill, HB735/SB729, commissions a study to finally settle the debate on forests. The nonpartisan Hughes Center for Agroecology will look at how much forest we are really losing, determine the root causes of the losses, and explore ways we can fix the problem. The center will clear the issue of street trees vs. forests and better assess where we want to focus development vs. where we want to protect forests. Most importantly, elected officials who get huge donations from the developer lobby will not be able to hide behind their supposed confusion of the facts around forest loss.

These two bills are not the end but rather the beginning. The coalition we built can now move towards more and better forest policies in years to come- to better create local ordinances in key counties and major state level forest reform as early as 2020. We will be more thoughtful as we decide which forests to remove as we protect our best forests and plan for smarter development. These bills are about to go into effect, and someday soon I hope fewer people will wonder why a forest needlessly came down.  Fewer trees will be chopped down and fewer forests will be lost.

May the Forest Be With Us!

Ben Alexandro, Maryland League of Conservation Voters

By |2019-12-07T09:42:47-05:00July 17th, 2019|Categories: Blog|0 Comments