Monday 20 August 2018

Environmental advocates have been working to update Maryland's 45-year old Public Information Act through state legislation ("Senate OKs rewrite of public information law," March 24). There is certainly plenty of room for improvement -- Maryland received an "F" in government transparency from the State Integrity Project. The new legislation creates better oversight, tightens timelines to respond to public information requests and requires proper justification for denials.

 

Clean water and clean air advocates have been stymied when requesting information from state or local governments -- but we're not the only ones.
 
I testified in support of this legislation alongside newspaper editors, government watchdog groups, social justice organizations and private citizens. The only organizations that testified publicly in opposition to the bill were the Maryland Farm Bureau and the Maryland Grain Producers. Why do they oppose common sense reforms to Maryland's public information law?
 
The agriculture industry -- the largest polluter to the Chesapeake Bay -- receives special treatment under existing law. For instance, information about state-required pollution plans for many farms are kept secret, hidden from Maryland taxpayers, along with enforcement records for these farms. State governments invest millions of dollars to reduce pollution from farms and we deserve some level of accountability to ensure that funding is being well spent. Unfortunately, the powerful corporate agriculture lobby was successfully able to strip any provisions relating to agricultural transparency out of the legislation.
 
The amended legislation moving through the General Assembly is still critically important because it will make it easier for Marylanders to get public information they deserve to see. The bill improves a law that hasn't been updated since Marvin Mandel was governor. But it won't fix everything that is wrong with government transparency in the Free State. Open government advocates will continue working to shine a light on public information to get better access and accountability from all industries that pollute our environment -- no exceptions or exemptions.
 
 

Today, Waterkeepers Chesapeake submitted comments to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) expressing strong opposition to the inclusion of the Mid- and South Atlantic planning areas in the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s draft 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program.

 

Waterkeepers Chesapeake, a coalition of 18 independent Waterkeeper programs located in the Chesapeake Bay region, includes the Assateague Coastkeeper at Assateague Coastal Trust and the Virginia Eastern Shorekeeper. Waterkeepers Chesapeake submitted comments on behalf of all 18 programs and the residents they represent in recognition that allowing offshore drilling for oil and gas off the Atlantic coast will have vast and long-lasting impacts on this region’s environment, public health, economy and communities. The cumulative effects of offshore drilling need to be considered.

The Chesapeake Bay and the Delmarva (Delaware, Maryland and Virginia) coastal area are fragile, constantly changing ecosystems. Maintaining the health of these ecosystems is critical to preserving the way of life that is unique to the Bay and the shore, a way of life that is dependent upon clean water that is swimmable and fishable.

For the first time in recent history the Mid-Atlantic coastline could potentially be open to offshore deepwater drilling for oil, and underwater fracking wells for natural gas. The Mid- and South-Atlantic areas should be removed from the proposed plan for the following reasons:

  • Offshore drilling could risk millions of jobs, critical marine ecosystems, recreational opportunities, and tourism industries along the Atlantic coast and the Chesapeake Bay.
  • Opening the Atlantic to oil and gas leasing would lead to more seismic testing in the Atlantic, putting wildlife and fisheries at risk.
  • The potential benefits of offshore drilling in the Atlantic are not worth the risk to the coastal regions and the Chesapeake Bay economically and environmentally.
  • Alternative energy, energy efficiency, and energy conservation as the alternatives to expanded offshore drilling should be considered in the PEIS.
  • Expanding offshore drilling in the Atlantic will only deepen our dependence on oil and gas, and worsen the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification.

For the reasons stated above, Waterkeepers Chesapeake requested that the Mid-Atlantic and South Atlantic planning areas be removed from BOEM’s 2011-2022 Draft Proposed Plan for OCS Resources. Furthermore, Waterkeepers Chesapeake requested public hearings on BOEM’s 2017-2022 OCS Resource Plan as required when there may be substantial environmental controversy concerning the environmental effects of the proposed action (40 CFR 1506.6 (c)).

For additional information about Atlantic Coast offshore drilling, visit Assateague Coastkeeper's website. And follow #MyEastCoast and #NotOffMyCoast on social media.

Download full statements: DPP and PEIS

 

Calls Made to State Senate to Act in Defense of Public Health, Economic Viability 

ANNAPOLIS— The Maryland House today passed legislation that would enact a 3-year moratorium on fracking statewide with a 93 – 45 vote in favor. The bill gained enough votes in favor to be veto-proof. The bill, the Protect Our Health and Communities Act (HB 449), was sponsored by Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo. Throughout the 2015 legislative session, a flood of support for the moratorium has come from health professionals, business owners and residents throughout the state. The bill passed with wide bipartisan support on the House floor, and delegates, advocates and concerned residents immediately turned their calls to the State Senate to act in kind.

“Thank you to all of the organizations, and my Chair, Kumar Barve, that have helped move this challenging bill,” said bill sponsor Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo. “I am happy to pass it out of the House. This bill is necessary so we can comprehensively study the totality of the public health impacts in the state of Maryland. To frack before we have completed this vital step would be irresponsible."

Business owners in Western Maryland have expressed growing concern that fracking will negatively affect the booming tourism industry in that part of the state, where fracking would occur in the Marcellus Shale. Over 100 Western Maryland business owners have signed a letter to the leadership of the General Assembly in support of the fracking moratorium. The Don’t Frack Maryland campaign has also sent over 25,000 messages supporting a moratorium. Letters signed by more than 100 health professionals, and over 50 restaurant owners, chefs, winemakers and farmers from across the state have also been delivered to the General Assembly. And last night, the Friendsville Town Council, whose city is the center of a thriving white-water rafting industry in the state, sent a letter supporting a moratorium to President Miller, urging him to encourage a vote in the Senate.

“As with all relatively new industrial practices, health and safety issues can come to the fore after a number of years,” said the bill’s sponsor in the Senate, Senator Karen Montgomery. “An example is the luminous (glow in the dark) watch faces that were painted with radium. The workers who painted the watch faces developed face and mouth cancers. That practice was ended only after a number of workers died. We need to have a longer fracking moratorium in Maryland to observe and measure any advance health and environmental issues.”

Polling has also shown that a clear majority of Marylanders oppose fracking and support action from the General Assembly to prevent drilling in the state.

“It is impossible to ignore mounting evidence of the severe threat fracking poses to human health,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “The Maryland House has rightly exercised its duty to protect residents from the serious harms fracking would bring, and we're now urging the State Senate to also stand with the people, and not with an industry that would happily sacrifice Marylanders’ health for a profit.”

“All eyes are on the Maryland Senate now. I can only hope that they heed the call to protect the health of our growing tourism economy in Western Maryland,” said Eric Robison, owner of Eagle Rock Construction, LLC and President of Save Western Maryland. “Maryland’s more sustainable businesses, like farming, tourism and restaurants would be devastated by fracking. We don’t need a short term boom and bust economy, we need to maintain a strong economic foundation for future generations.”

"As public health advocates, we have been pleased to see that major concerns about the health impacts of fracking have been taken seriously and have been part of the debate that is shaping Maryland policy,” said Rebecca Ruggles, Director of Maryland Environmental Health Network. “This action by the House shows that our elected officials are being appropriately cautious and are being guided by environmental health science."

For Immediate Release: March 24, 2015

Contact: Ryanne Waters, (202) 683-4925, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

CLICK HERE TO TAKE ACTION! SEND EMAIL TO MD SENATORS!!

DOWNLOAD FULL PRESS RELEASE

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Don’t Frack Maryland brings together a diverse group of public interest organizations, businesses, and faith groups from across Maryland and the United States. For more information on the statewide campaign for a moratorium on fracking in Maryland: http://www.dontfrackmd.org