Support Forest Conservation Legislation in Maryland

A suite of three bills to tighten up the intents of the FCA is now before the 2019 legislative session of the Maryland General Assembly. They are: “No Net Loss of Forest” (House Bill 120/Senate Bill 203); “State and Local Forest Conservation Funds” (H.B. 272/S.B. 234); and the “Forest Conservation Task Force” (H.B. 735/S.B. 729).  Read more by following the link to the Baltimore Sun oped by Dick Williams and Bernadette Roche, co-Leads for Maryland Episcopal Environmental Partners, as to why this legislation is vital for wildlife and humans alike.

https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-op-0222-forest-conservation-20190221-story.html

We act according to these imperatives

“Earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization as a result of human activities.”  –2018 National Climate Assessment report

“The work of saving this creation, on one level, it is saving our own lives, and on another level, it is saving the world that God has made and God has created, and we dare not deface what God has made.”  –Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church

 

“For I was hungry and you gave me food,

“I was thirsty and you gave me drink,

“I was a stranger and you gave me drink,

“I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

“I was naked and you clothed me.

–Matthew 25:35”

  • Of 66 million global refugees, 40 million are climate refugees
  • For every 1 degree increase in global average temperature, a 10% reduction in world’s grain crops
  • Climate-related disasters push 26 million into poverty every year (World Bank)

 

Third-Party Energy Supply Pros & Cons – Advice for treasurers and wardens:

Many of our Episcopal parishes and parishioners have chosen an energy third-party supplier. In Maryland, there are over 60 suppliers vying for our energy business. WYPR ran a good short overview of supplier issues.

We’ve reviewed several parish utility bills and most paid significant price premiums compared to their local utility supply rates. It is possible to save versus your utility and even choose renewable energy supply, but tricky.

Laurel Peltier — MEEP member— has been reporting about suppliers and suggests:

Parishes can’t “set it and forget it.” Leaving regulated utilities for deregulated suppliers involves a business contract with expiration dates and cancel fees. Many parishes have forgotten to renew their contracts and paid pricey variable rates. Utility rates are fixed.

For BGE account holders, please see this online guide how to compare your rates.

Smaller parishes should stick with regulated utility rates.

Larger parishes should use a broker to access best rates and stays on top of contacts renewals.

Feel free to contact Laurel at laurelpeltier@gmail.com for advice.

 

Maryland Episcopal Environmental Partners supports Forest Conservation bill

SUPPORT – Senate Bill 234 – Forest Conservation Fee-in-Lieu Programs

Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee – February 12, 2019

The above-listed organizations respectfully request a favorable report on Senate Bill 234 from the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee. This bill would bring transparency and accountability to Forest Conservation Act fee-in-lieu programs, and ensure that the replanting requirements of the Act are satisfied when a developer pays a local government a fee in lieu of reforestation.

Forest Conservation Fee-In-Lieu Programs

Under the Forest Conservation Act (FCA), a developer who clears forests or trees sometimes occurs an obligation to replace some of the forest or trees, known as a mitigation. The FCA allows a developer to pay the local government a fee in lieu of replanting, which goes into a local Forest Conservation Fund. A local government can choose whether or not to have a fee-in-lieu program. A local government that opts to run a fee-in-lieu program is authorized to use those funds on reforestation and afforestation activities, including site identification, acquisition, and preparation, maintenance of existing forests, and achieving urban tree canopy goals. The state FCA sets a minimum fee amount per square foot, but local governments are authorized to set the fee amount at any rate.

Problems with Fee-in-Lieu Programs

Once a developer pays fees to a local government in lieu of replanting trees, the local government may or may not actually turn those fees into the required mitigation. Oftentimes fees collect in local funds for years, going unspent. Sometimes fees are spent entirely on maintenance or other uses that do not actually create or conserve forest. The outcome is that paying fee in lieu of mitigation results in fewer forest acres being planted than is required by the FCA. For example, in fiscal year 2016 alone, local governments collected $2.9 million in fees, but only spent $990,000. The surplus of fees collected but not spent represents hundreds of acres of forest that were required to be planted under the FCA, but that were not. Local forest conservation funds currently hold thousands or even millions of dollars that represent hundreds of acres of forest that should have been replanted.

There have also been long-standing issues around transparency and accountability in local fee-in-lieu programs. Local governments are not required to track the number of acres for which fees are collected, or to track how many acres a local government replanted with those fees. Therefore, we have no idea how many acres of forest that should have been replanted have been lost. The Ecosystem Services Working Group raised this issue in a 2011 report, noting “[i]t is also unknown how the fee-in-lieu option is being implemented by each county and whether the forest cover that is planted replaces the forests that are lost.”[1] That group went on to recommend that fee-in-lieu is only used as a last resort, and that the FCA should require purchase of forest mitigation bank credits where available before allowing fee-in-lieu payments.

Senate Bill 234 Solutions

Senate Bill 234 would correct several issues with transparency, accountability, and effectiveness of fee-in-lieu programs.

First, the bill would require that local governments bear the responsibility of replanting the same acreage of forests for which fees were paid. In other words, if a developer pays a fee for one acre of forest mitigation, the local government would have the obligation to create an acre of forest. This puts the same onus on local governments collecting the fee as would have been on the developer, and ensures that we are receiving the full amount of mitigation that is required under the FCA. If a local government cannot identify a location or opportunity to satisfy the mitigation, this bill would not allow the local government to accept the fee-in-lieu.

Second, the bill provides transparency and accountability to fee-in-lieu programs by requiring a local government to produce a reforestation plan and accounting procedures, and also report on acres for which fees were collected and spent. The reforestation plan will help local governments determine whether appropriate locations and opportunities are available for replanting, and help the public participate in identifying reforestation opportunities. The reporting requirement will allow reviewers to tell how many acres of forests in fees were collected and whether the equivalent number of acres were replanted. Although it is not expected that a local government will fully replant all the acres for which fees were collected in that same year, this will demonstrate over time whether fee-in-lieu programs are generating approximately the same amount of forest for which fees were paid.

Third, the bill would require a developer to purchase credits from a mitigation bank, where available, before being able to turn to a fee-in-lieu program. This reflects the recommendation of the Ecosystem Services Working Group, and also provides enhanced ecological value. Forest mitigation banks create contiguous tracts of forest that provide habitat, recreation, and increased ecological benefits. Forest mitigation banks are also easier to maintain and verify than smaller, discrete patches of forest or individual tree plantings. Finally, forest mitigation banks can represent an opportunity for private landowners to convert land to forest while receiving economic return on that investment.

Conclusion

Forests and trees provide a plethora of ecosystem services that are critical for clean air, clean water, and the health and well-being of Maryland citizens and communities. The Forest Conservation Act already does not require the full replacement of forests that are lost to development, and the problems with the existing fee-in-lieu programs mean even fewer forests are replanted than the Act intended. For these reasons, the above listed organizations respectfully request a favorable report on Senate Bill 234.

[1] Ecosystem Services Working Group Final Report, October 2011.

ESG Investing and Alternative Energy Talk at Friends School Baltimore Jan 8

Join Friends School of Baltimore on Tuesday, January 8, at 6:30 pm in the Forbush Auditorium for an engaging discussion about community solar and sustainable investing. On hand will be representatives from Glenmede, the school’s investment management firm, as well as Clean Choice Energy, Climate Access Fund, Neighborhood Sun, Power 52, and Solar United Neighbors. Click below for more information and registration for this free event.

https://www.friendsbalt.org/page/news-detail?pk=1054124&fromId=198037

Friends School of Baltimore

5114 N Charles St.

Baltimore, MD 21210

Maryland Episcopal Environmental Partners are investigating Power52 Solar Farms as an option for diocese and parishes.

Jim Truby (co-Chair) and Laurel Peltier (Green Laurel) of the Maryland Episcopal Environmental Partners have been working on a proposal to bring locally grown solar power from the solar  farm to a subset of churches and schools the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.  Read about Power52’s outstanding large scale solar farm operations, as well as their job training programs helping at-risk job seekers secure certification and jobs in the clean energy sector, in Green Laurel’s Fishbowl article from November 2017.

Progress on Pollinator Garden at Mount Royal Elementary/Middle School

The pollinator garden, a true community effort, including Memorial Episcopal Church, Ladew Topiary Gardens in Monkton, MICA professors, Bolton Hill residents, and Mt Royal Elementary/Middle School, has been progressing this spring.  The fence is in!  The arbor is up!  The garden beds are being placed!  This should be up and running in time for summer pollinators, who will use this as a stopping point for nectaring and laying eggs on food plants for their caterpillars.

Setting the first picket fence post.

Arbor posts are leveled

Scott tests the arbor for sway.

Picket fence is finished

 

Tree Planting Funding Available

Staff Garden Planting at Church of the Redeemer

Planting native plants at Church of the Redeemer

Our brothers and sisters in the MD/DE Lutheran Synod have again invited us to join in their native tree planting program celebrating 500 Years of the Reformation.  Please consider planting a tree, along with a care for creation ceremony, on your church grounds this spring or summer.  World Environment Day is June 5, and what better way to celebrate than planting a tree?  For inspiration, please watch the short film of the planting of the new Staff Garden at the Church of the Redeemer on Earth Day 2018.  Check out our page on tree planting for more information.