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List of State Officials - Martin O'Malley, Governor; Anthony Brown, Lt. Governor; Robert Summers, Acting MDE Secretary 

Volume IV, Number 9

 March 2011

eMDE is a quarterly publication of the Maryland Department of the Environment. It covers articles on current environmental issues and events in the state. 

General Assembly 2011: Reducing pollution from septic systems, moving carefully on Marcellus Shale, countering acid mine drainage

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Environmental measures under consideration in the General Assembly include a proposal to prevent pollution from septic systems to the Chesapeake Bay and other Maryland waterways. That legislation would also encourage smart growth and agricultural preservation.

The proposal – advanced by Gov. Martin O’Malley and reflected in legislation sponsored by several Maryland lawmakers – would reduce the amount of nutrients polluting Maryland waterways and help the State to meet the requirements of the federal “pollution diet” for the Bay.

House Bill 1107/Senate Bill 846 would require any development of five or more lots to either tie into a public sewer treatment system or to treat sewage through a shared, community system. Also, septic systems for smaller developments or newly developed individual lots would have to employ technology that removes nitrogen.

MDE supports this legislation. A household on a septic system discharges about 10 times more nitrogen than one served by a major sewage treatment plant. Nitrogen is the most serious pollutant in the Bay and Maryland waterways. It promotes the growth of algae, leading to a decline in underwater grasses and “dead zones” of water with reduced dissolved oxygen levels.

An estimated 8 percent of Maryland’s total nitrogen pollution comes from septic systems, according to Maryland's Watershed Implementation Plan for the Chesapeake Bay pollution diet. Current growth trends show a projected 36 percent increase in the nitrogen load from septic systems over the next quarter century.

To highlight the septic system problem, Governor O'Malley waded into Lake Bonnie in the Town of Goldsboro, where bacteria pollution has been linked to failing septic systems.

Governor O'Malley said, "The pollution in Lake Bonnie is an unfortunate product of our failure to address one of the last remaining unmitigated causes of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay."

"Preventing pollution before it starts doesn't just create a healthier Bay," continued Governor O'Malley. "It also saves the State and taxpayers' money, protects Maryland families, improves the value of our land, and protects our drinking water. We strongly support legislation to halt the further expansion of large housing developments on septics across our watershed and our remaining rural landscape."

Governor O'Malley – along with MDE Acting Secretary Robert M. Summers, Department of Planning Secretary Richard E. Hall, Department of Agriculture Secretary Buddy Hance, and bill sponsors Senator Paul G. Pinsky and Delegate Stephen W. Lafferty –testified in favor of the legislation.

MDE is also tracking other legislation that potentially affects the agency’s responsibilities and is providing information to lawmakers. In the early days of the session, Acting Secretary Summers briefed legislative committees, presenting overviews of the Department and its enforcement programs, the Chesapeake Bay pollution diet and accompanying Watershed Implementation Plan, and progress on greenhouse gas reduction.

The Acting Secretary also provided information to the House Environmental Matters Committee on proposals to drill for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale in Western Maryland. MDE has been following other states’ experiences with Marcellus Shale mining, and the agency continues to ask permit applicants for information. No permits for drilling and hydraulic fracturing will be issued in Maryland unless and until MDE is convinced that the operations can be done in a manner that is fully protective of public health, safety, natural resources, and the environment and with every appropriate safeguard in place.

MDE supports House Bill 852, with amendments. The legislation would prohibit MDE from issuing a drilling permit in the Marcellus Shale until an applicant meets certain standards and makes certain demonstrations. Instead of a permit-by-permit method, MDE favors an approach that would require the Department and the Department of Natural Resources to conduct a comprehensive study addressing the risks presented by gas extraction from the Marcellus Shale. MDE would examine the results of other investigations, including studies by the Environmental Protection Agency and New York State, as they become available. The Departments would convene an Advisory Commission to assist in evaluating the results of these studies.

The complete study is expected to take two years and would be funded by the industry that will ultimately profit from gas production. If information becomes available during the course of the study that is sufficient to demonstrate that the natural gas can be extracted from shale formations in Maryland without adverse impact to human health, natural resources, or the environment, MDE should be allowed to issue a permit with the appropriate safeguards.

MDE is sponsoring House Bill 210, which would bring Maryland law into line with a provision of federal law designating the percentage of grant money for mining-related matters that can be used to counter the effects of acidic water that drains from abandoned coal mines.

Maryland receives about $2.7 million in federal grants each year to reclaim abandoned surface mines, perform stream restoration, treat acid mine drainage, and for related activities. Federal law allows as much as 30 percent of that grant money to be used for acid mine drainage remediation. Under a restriction in Maryland law, a maximum of 10 percent of that money is available for acid mine drainage. In the past, special appropriations have made up that difference.

MDE’s Acid Mine Drainage Abatement Section has successfully improved waterways impaired by drainage from abandoned coal mines in Western Maryland.

MDE is also sponsoring House Bill 1254, which would allow the Department to alter the due date for owners to register rental properties covered by Maryland's lead law and to pay the related registration fees. Currently, all registrations are due by Dec. 31 of each year. The bill would allow the Department to be more efficient by distributing its work related to the registration of these properties throughout the year.


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Editorial Board
Maryland Department of the Environment
1800 Washington Boulevard, Baltimore, MD 21230