Turning green

Our view : Tough times, but surprising number of environment bills advance

April 05, 2009

This wasn't supposed to be a big year for the environmentalist movement in Annapolis, and that may yet prove to be the case. Program Open Space funds are under assault from the state Senate, millions of cap-and-trade dollars from power plants are being diverted from alternative energy and efficiency programs, and some important environmental programs have had their budgets cut (as many state government functions have).

But with just a week left in the legislative session, the greenies are in a surprisingly good position to pull off some significant wins.

Those possible victories include a measure to require homes in the critical areas near the shoreline that aren't served by public sewers to install advanced septic systems that remove more nitrogen from wastewater. That's been a highly contentious proposal in the past.

Most of Gov. Martin O'Malley's bill to commit Maryland to a 25 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020 has advanced. His proposal to address the Court of Appeals' Terrapin Run decision and restore legal authority to county comprehensive plans has, too.

On the state's Smart Growth policy, however, the Senate's failure to put some teeth into the program is particularly disappointing. The House had taken Mr. O'Malley's modest effort at updating Smart Growth and required the counties to show they were making progress toward their stated goals. But that now looks like a lost cause in the Senate - and a big defeat for any hope of controlling sprawl around the Chesapeake Bay.

Still, what happens in the days ahead could make the difference. As one veteran lobbyist noted, a month ago it looked like the environmentalists were going to walk away from the session nearly empty-handed. Perhaps it's a case of looking at the Chesapeake Bay as half-clean, but given the circumstances, it's a welcome development.

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