Governor O’Malley Outlines Initiatives to Restore Health of Chesapeake Bay

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Environmental Agenda “Most Forward Thinking in Last 20 Years”

On March 3rd, 2008, Governor Martin O’Malley outlined new initiatives to begin restoring the health of the Chesapeake Bay, and the need for a strengthened critical area law.  Standing on the beach in front of the Phillip Merrill Environmental Center in Annapolis, Governor O’Malley was joined by Kim Coble, Maryland Executive Director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Brad Heavner, State Director of Environment Maryland, among other business, community, and environmental leaders.

“We all recognize that the health of our Bay is at critical crossroads.  In its annual report last year, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation gave the health of the Bay a score of 28 out of 100.  Over the last five years before that the average score was 27,” said Governor O’Malley.  “As One Maryland, we have a choice.  We can continue with the status quo and hope that the health of the Bay begins to improve, or we can take action to strengthen our critical area laws and improve the health of our Bay.”

“The state’s Critical Area Act is a law with the right intention but it has not kept pace with development and is clearly broken. We thank Governor O’Malley for providing the leadership to fix it,” said Ms. Coble. “We also want to acknowledge Governor O’Malley’s environmental agenda this year. Critical Area reform, Energy Efficiency, the Bay Trust Fund, and the Global Warming Solutions Act, together create the most forward thinking agenda we have seen in the last 20 years.”

Governor O’Malley has introduced Senate Bill 844 and House Bill 1253 to update and strengthen Maryland’s critical areas law to ensure more adequate protection of the most environmentally sensitive and significant lands within Maryland’s Chesapeake and Coastal Bays watersheds. The proposed legislation would:

* Restore the Critical Area Commission’s regulatory authority to operate with the same authority as every other agency of State government;
* Significantly strengthen enforcement;
* Provide stronger protection of water quality and wildlife habitats;
* Establish new procedures for processing variances; and
* Require updating of the Critical Area boundary — which has not been adjusted since 1972.

The 1984 critical areas law designated all land within 1,000 feet of the edge of tidal waters and wetlands as “critical area.”  The current 1,000-foot area was identified using 1972 state wetland maps, that are still used today for enforcement and variance allowances by local governments.  Sixty-four local jurisdictions including 16 counties and 48 municipalities comprise land within the critical area.

To prevent houses from being built near the water, the newly updated law will require a 300 foot setback for all new subdivisions in the RCA (Resource Conservation Area) and will require the Critical Area Commission to consider Smart Growth Standards for new growth allocations.  The legislation would also require builders and home improvement contractors to comply with the Critical Area law, and require anyone who builds an illegal structure in the Critical Area to relocate it.

“We need to get serious about protecting the Bay and fix the laws that are good in theory but poor in practice,” said Mr. Heavner.  “The Governor is showing strong leadership on this issue, and I hope legislators are equally up to the task.”

In addition to the Critical Areas law, Governor O’Malley has proposed legislation that would implement the Chesapeake Bay 2010 Trust Fund and permit the State to aggressively promote transit-oriented development (TOD) as a smart growth tool to revitalize communities and curb sprawl.

In the last year, Governor O’Malley has taken a number of actions to help protect the environment and restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay, including:

* Created the Chesapeake Bay 2010 Trust Fund to help restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay;
* Led efforts to improve the Chesapeake Bay, signing laws to improve stormwater management and require phosphorus-free detergent, and accepting regional Forest Conservation Agreement;
* Established BayStat to coordinate public, private, non-profit efforts to save the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries;
* Created the Climate Change Commission to develop an action plan to address climate change in Maryland and rising sea levels in the Chesapeake Bay;
* Fought for and signed into law the Clean Cars law to clean our air;
* Launched the EmPOWER Maryland Initiative, setting the most ambitious goal in the nation to decrease per capita energy consumption 15% by 2015;
* Fought sprawl and traffic by blocking the massive Four Seasons development on the Bay, fully funding Program Open Space and restoring Maryland’s leadership in Smart Growth;
* Joined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, working with 9 other states to reduce emissions and fight global warming;
* Boosted renewable energy with a law making solar energy more affordable, and the Clean Energy Schools initiative to put solar panels on schools;
* Helped farmers protect the land by keeping farming profitable, investing a record $8 million in cover crop programs and tripled annual budget for MARBIDCO and agricultural innovation; and
* Passed the Oyster Restoration Act to restore oyster population of the Bay.

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