Maryland’s General Assembly session concluded with cheers at Midnight on Monday. State lawmakers made history by passing a law that outlaws hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas in the state.
Maryland is now only the second state – after Vermont – to legislatively ban fracking, and the first state with gas-rich shale rock deposits to do so. Other states, including Florida, may potentially follow – presaging a new front in a national war over unconventional gas extraction.
Paul Roberts is a winery owner in Western Maryland. He helped to lead a grass-roots uprising of local business owners and others against fracking in the state through an organization called Citizen Shale. Many of its members feared that drilling rigs, noise and air pollution would hurt the tourism industry and human health in Garrett County.
Here’s Roberts: “We achieved what seems like a huge victory for democracy in Maryland. And the bad news is it only took seven years, you know? Sometimes these things take a long time, when you’re up against the most powerful lobby in the world, let’s face it.”
State legislators also made other strides to protect the environment. They overrode Governor Larry Hogan’s veto of a bill that will require utility companies to buy 25 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020.
That forward progress on climate change in Annapolis was in stark contrast to what is happening nationally with the Trump Administration, which is denying the scientific consensus behind global warming and dismantling the EPA.
Karla Raettig is executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters.
“Well, I think that it’s almost because of what’s happening in Washington, D.C.,” Raettig said. “When you see that the federal government is not going to step in and protect Maryland, the General Assembly and the legislators really showed leadership for the state to protect Marylanders and the environment. So I think it’s because of what’s happening in DC that we saw progress.”
By more than two-to-one margins, state lawmakers approved a bill that blocks an effort by the Hogan Administration to shrink oyster sanctuaries created by Governor Martin O’Malley in 2010. In part because of overharvesting, oyster populations in the Chesapeake Bay have plummeted to one percent of historic levels. But watermen have been lobbying Hogan to loosen up the regulations.
“Oysters are really important to the health of the bay,” Raettig said, “and we need to have areas where we can have healthy populations that aren’t impacted by harvest.”
In other environmental legislation, lawmakers passed a bill that somewhat limits the feeding of antibiotics to chickens and other livestock on factory farms. But because of lobbying from Eastern Shore lawmakers and the poultry industry, the bill was weakened and still allows feeding of the drugs to farm animals to prevent a risk of disease. Legislation to require the monitoring of ammonia air pollution from these factory farms was killed in committee.
Another bill, proposed by Governor Hogan, called the “Clean Water Commerce Act” passed to encourage pollution trading in the state, although in a watered-down version that addressed some complaints from environmentalists about a lack of accountability in the scheme.
And legislation to outlaw Styrofoam cups and packaging materials never made it out of committee after it was trashed by opposition from the packaging industry. That bill may be coming back next year, however – as will many of these issues.