Maryland Legislators Developing Ways to Entice Developers to Combat Homelessness

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Maryland legislators are considering how to entice private developers to build more homes for low-income families as affordable housing in Maryland is becoming increasingly difficult to find, and lawmakers are particularly worried about unaccompanied youth left without stable shelter.

The General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Ending Homelessness is taking steps toward crafting a bill that would provide financial benefits to for-profit and nonprofit developers for building affordable housing units, according to Delegate Mary Washington, D-Baltimore.

“Consistently, we are hearing that one of the barriers around housing and stability is the high price of housing,” Washington, one of the committee chairs, said last week. “So we want to incentivize people to build affordable housing.”

About 72 percent of extremely low-income households in Maryland pay more than 50 percent of their income toward housing expenses, according to census data from 2011-2015.

This makes owning, or renting, a living space incredibly difficult and risky, according to United Way of Central Maryland CEO Franklyn Baker.

“There’s no rain plan or safety net if you get sick” or have other emergencies, Baker said.

A crucial factor for affordable housing for low-income households is funding from state and federal governments.

One key program is the Federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, which provides states an annual allocation based on population. Last year, Maryland was awarded $13.8 million in these tax credits to distribute to developers, according to Novogradac and Co.

Under the program, private developers agree to provide housing to low-income families at below market value. The residences must remain affordable for 30 years, when the agreement between developers and the government expires.

After three decades, private developers maintain control of the property and can charge what they wish.

Across the various programs within the state last year, developers requested $93 million in total funding, yet only $47.5 million was awarded, according to the Community Development Network of Maryland.

Of that, developers requested $56.5 million in Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, but only $27.5 million was awarded between federal tax credits and state subsidies, according to the Affordable Housing Resource Center.

Developers of more than 3,500 affordable housing units in Maryland sought funding this year, but only 43 percent, or 1,505 units, were funded, according to the Community Development Network of Maryland.

The tax credits for nearly 35 percent of federally subsidized housing in Maryland will expire by 2020, meaning that those residences will no longer be set aside as affordable housing, according to the National Housing Preservation Database.

Owners of the developments would have to re-apply for Low Income Housing Tax Credits and therefore sacrifice potential profits at market value, according to Odette Ramos, executive director of Community Development Network of Maryland.

These public-private agreements are critical to providing affordable housing to impoverished communities, so the Community Development Network of Maryland is asking the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development to help allocate money for these projects, Ramos said.

Representatives from the Community Development Network of Maryland also called the 1999 Assisted Affordable Housing Preservation Act outdated, and suggested that the state update its local laws and practices. The act does not require property owners to contact local social services, which creates a disconnect and leaves families without benefits, Ramos said.

Many of those without housing in Maryland are young adults who have issues with drugs, teen pregnancy, or other issues out of their control, according to the Maryland Department of Human Services.

Additionally, nearly 70 percent of youth entering out-of-home placement, which includes foster care, had prior issues with neglect, causing developmental and psychological problems, according to the Maryland Department of Human Services.

In 2016, 1,223 people younger than 25 were surveyed in homeless shelters and through affiliated agencies. Results showed that 893 young people were independent from a guardian and without a stable housing situation, and were classified by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development as unaccompanied homeless youth.

In a 2015 survey of unaccompanied youth, the Maryland Department of Human Resources found 474 unaccompanied youth living in non-traditional housing, according to Amanda Miller with the University of Maryland School of Social Work.

Even for children with guardians to care for them, though, life can be difficult.

State Sen. Joanne Benson, D-Prince George’s County, recounted a story of visiting Prince George’s County’s Shepherd’s Cove Women’s shelter and witnessing more than 60 children with their parents and unable to get services parent.

“I must say, it is very difficult for me to sit on this committee,” Benson said. “These services are absent for them and they’ve lost hope. Homelessness is unacceptable.”

By Josh Schmidt

Affordable Care Act: One Young Cancer Patient in Maryland

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Presents sat unopened in her family’s Davidsonville house in April, while at Johns Hopkins Hospital her parents told her she had Ewing’s sarcoma, a cancerous tumor growing in her stomach. The disease is so rare that only about 225 children in the United States are diagnosed each year.

Ella Edwards, 9, holds the opening page of a story she is writing about her fight with cancer. Ella was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma on her birthday. Capital News Service photo by Aaron Rosa.

The Edwards family entered a new reality of oncologists and treatments.

“It was crazy fast,” Jen Edwards said. “We were taken up to oncology, and I was thinking, what are we doing here? There are kids with cancer here.

“At that point we weren’t even thinking of insurance.”

The Edwards family hadn’t been following the congressional debates over the repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.” But now they, like millions of other Americans, would have to deal with a pre-existing condition — which before the Affordable Care Act meant companies could refuse insurance.

Though Congress and the Trump Administration have tried — and failed — to repeal President Barack Obama’s healthcare law, these patients remain worried about their future.

“The ACA was something I never paid attention to,” Jen Edwards said. “You just assume your child is never going to get sick and be healthy all their lives.”

Brian Edwards runs Hague Quality Water, a water treatment company, owned by his father, that has been in his family over 20 years. He purchased health insurance for his children, which, he said, cost less than what he would have to pay through work.

A week before Ella’s birthday, a stomach flu hit the family, but Ella did not respond to the usual medications.

Ella Edwards walks into the room where she will receive the third of six proton radiotherapy treatments. Capital News Service photo by Aaron Rosa.

Doctors at Anne Arundel Medical Center found a grapefruit-sized tumor pressing against her bladder and transferred her immediately to Johns Hopkins University for further testing.

There, the doctors diagnosed the cancer. And two days after her parents took her to the hospital for what they thought was a stomach bug, Ella began receiving chemotherapy.

At Hopkins, Jen Edwards recalls, hospital administrators made a crucial discovery: Ella had been admitted through the emergency room. If Ella was discharged, Johns Hopkins would not readmit her because, though the emergency visit was covered, Hopkins did not accept her insurance for continuing treatment, a staff member confirmed.

They stopped the family from leaving. The administrators recommended that Brian Edwards purchase a new plan, under “Obamacare,” that would cover Ella’s future treatment — avoiding a bill of $80,000.

In a stroke of luck, Hague Quality Water was in a two-week period where the business could choose a new insurance provider for their employees. Brian Edwards switched his company’s coverage to Evergreen Health, a plan on the state health exchange that offered in-state health insurance for Ella’s condition.

Ella’s newly diagnosed cancer is included on a list of declinable conditions that would have caused her application for insurance to be automatically denied in all but five states before the health care law, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Evergreen Health’s monthly premium is $1,900, nearly 30 times the $66 premium he previously paid for insurance covering all his children — the policy from a company that Johns Hopkins would not accept.

“Even if you can’t pay the bills in that moment, you’re still going to do the treatment,” Jen Edwards said.

She leafed through a thick, worn binder filled with letters from doctors, scraps of paper with hastily jotted notes, and bills — dozens of bills.

Ella’s initial seven-day hospitalization topped $41,000, including $17,000 for room and board, and $20,000 for her first round of chemotherapy.

Four months of cancer treatments, visits with specialists, and hospitalizations racked up over $200,000. All but their $1,500 deductible was paid by their insurance company.

Before the Obama health care law, those costs led many families to bankruptcy.

A study conducted by Harvard University and published in the American Journal of Medicine in 2007 found that from 2001 to 2007, bankruptcies attributable to medical problems increased by 50 percent and comprised 67 percent of all bankruptcies in the United States.

Cost of life, a metric used to quantify one year of life with cancer treatment, rose from $54,100 in 1995, to $207,000 in 2013. This statistic does not include expenses like surgery or home care, nor does it account for the loss of income resulting from a chronic illness.

Brian and Jen Edwards held a different view of the health care law before Ella’s diagnosis. Back then, they viewed “Obamacare” as socialization of health care.

“For me, Ella’s cancer changed my perspective about the Affordable Care Act,” Jen Edwards said.

“Knowing some of these children that are also at Hopkins, I know their families can’t afford it,” she trails off. “Every child should get care.”

Jen Edwards has quit her job at a local church to care for Ella.

Brian Edwards supplements his work-provided policy with an additional policy to cover the more expensive drugs not covered by Evergreen.

The additional policy is income-based. With five children and a single income, the Edwards family qualifies for its insurance. But if Jen Edwards were to resume working and the family income increased, they would be ineligible.

But even with government subsidies, the Edwards family’s health insurance policies cost him over $2,500 a month.

“It’s overwhelming,” Brian Edwards said. “I don’t know how people do it without insurance.”

Ewing’s sarcoma has a good prognosis if it has not spread. Ella’s has spread to her lungs.

Ella has completed nine of 14 rounds of chemotherapy and is undergoing an eight-week proton radiotherapy treatment plan in lieu of a surgery that would have removed two of her vertebrae.

The family’s life is now shaped by cancer.

Ella and her siblings manned a lemonade stand on the side of a nearby road this summer to raise money for Ewing’s sarcoma research. The family visited Hershey Park. And Ella attended a special week-long camp sponsored by Johns Hopkins University Hospital and staffed by medical personnel.

What they did not do this summer was watch the healthcare debate on television.

Brian Edwards canceled their cable TV subscription. The Edwards children watch cartoons on Netflix.

“Nothing good comes from watching the news,” Brian Edwards said.
But the next wave of bad news didn’t come through the television. It came in the mail.

As a non-profit, Evergreen could no longer cover the costs of its clients, and in a final desperate measure, converted to a for-profit model and sought an outside investor.

Investors dropped out of the Evergreen acquisition deal this summer. In August, the Edwards family received a letter from Evergreen Health announcing that it would be going out of business, honoring existing contracts but closing its doors for good in 2018.

“We’ve been lucky to have coverage so far,” Brian Edwards said softly. “But with Evergreen going out of business, next year is going to be very different.”

Brian Edwards again switched his company’s insurance from Evergreen to Maryland Blue Cross Blue Shield.

His monthly premium increased by $400.

By Aaron Rosa

Ryan, Harris Tout Tax Reforms in Dixon Valve Visit

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Dixon Valve CEO Dick Goodall, at right, introduces House Speaker Paul Ryan (L) and Rep. Andy Harris to employees

Chestertown received a rare visit of a national political figure Thursday, Oct. 5 when Paul Ryan, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, came to town to promote the Republican Party’s tax reform proposals.

Accompanying Ryan on his visit to Dixon Valve and Coupling was Rep. Andy Harris, whose district includes the Eastern Shore. In the two-hour visit, Ryan and Harris toured the factory floor, had a question-and-answer session with workers, and met with management. At the conclusion of the visit, Ryan briefly took questions from members of the press.

Ryan and Harris talk to Dixon Valve workers during a plant tour

Dick Goodall, CEO of Dixon Valve, introduced the visitors, said he was really pleased to have Ryan and Harris. He said the visit was “a good opportunity, because we’re all invested in this country,” including all the things that happen in Washington. He told the assembled employees to ask questions freely – “I know you won’t hold back,” he said before turning the microphone over to Harris.

Harris, who introduced Paul, said he noticed several new pieces of equipment in the factory since his last visit, about four years ago. He said that was a good sign, because business needs to grow and progress to keep up with foreign competition. He said the two things most businesses worry about are regulations and the tax rate. He said he and Paul had just cast votes on the budget for next year, which would include a tax plan to improve the prospects for business.

Paul thanked Harris for being a leader on both taxes and health care. He said the two congressmen were here because they want the country to prosper in the face of global competition. “We need to be ahead of the global competition if we want good jobs, good futures that pay us well,” he said. He said Dixon is in competition with Chinese companies that make the same products, but while China taxes its businesses “at no higher than 25 percent,” Dixon faces taxes of 35 percent – not counting state taxes that raise the rate even higher. “That’s the story of America,” he said, Overseas, taxes can be as low as 12.5 percent, as in Ireland. He said the U.S. tax code was last reformed in 1986, while other countries have adjusted their rates many times since then. “This is messed up and we’ve got to fix it,” he said.

House Sp[eaker Paul Ryan

Paul also said the Republicans want to make it possible for companies to write off equipment purchases the year they make them, rather than waiting to recoup the expenses. With these incentives, he said, American companies will be encouraged to keep their operations in this country instead of moving them overseas.

Finally, he said, the tax code is so complicated that nobody without an accountant to help them navigate it can benefit from its various provisions. He said the GOP plan would allow most workers to fill out their tax forms “on a postcard,” while retaining “good middle-class incentives” like credits for home owners or saving for kids’ college education.  By doing so, “w know we can be a more prosperous country,” he said.

During the question-and-answer session, a young Dixon Valve employee asked how long it would take for the benefits of the GOP tax plan to take effect. “I’m 20 years old, and I’d like to move out of my parents’ house,” he said.

“Don’t worry – there is a future,” Ryan said. Congress will lower individual tax rates as well as business rates, he said. He said the plan will remove the marriage penalty and make it easier to save money to raise a family. He said American businesses have to pay higher wages and provide more benefits than Chinese companies. “The very least we can do is lower their tax costs” so they can hire more workers and pay them more, he said.

Ryan also talked about educational reforms to give young people the skills they need to operate the kind of advanced machinery in plants like Dixon Valve. He said House Republicans have passed bills to give workers the skills they need in the modern workforce. He also said the nation needs to reduce the cost of higher education.

After the employee Q&A session, Paul met with Dixon management and with the head of the American Association of Manufacturers to discuss how tax reform would help them.

During the press session, Ryan was asked about a report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy that said 30.5 percent of Maryland taxpayers would face an immediate tax increase under the GOP proposal, the highest percentage in the nation. The report said the increase would arise from the proposal’s elimination of a deduction for state and local taxes. Ryan said he hadn’t seen the report, but he said its analysis is likely to be slanted due to the Institute’s liberal bias. He said increasing the standard deduction and eliminating loopholes would benefit most middle-class taxpayers.

Ryan was also asked if Congress is contemplating a ban on the “bump stock,” an attachment that allows the AK-47 rifle to fire on full automatic, as in the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas. He said he had never heard of the attachment before news of the shooting broke, but he said fully automatic weapons have been outlawed for many years. The bump stock appears to be a way to dodge that prohibition, he said. He said regulations should catch up with that development, and that more research would be needed “to find out how this happened in the first place.”

Protesters hold signs outside Dion Valve

Across High Street, outside the Dixon Valve plant, a group of protesters – about 60 at its peak – held signs and chanted slogans. The total number of protesters was somewhat higher  as people came and went over a three-hour period.  The first protester arrived before 1:00 pm while the last ones went after the press conference ended and Ryan’s caravan with police escort left at about 4:15 pm.  At the height of the demonstration, around 2-3 pm, there were several groups representing various organizations such as Indivisible.  Many cars honked and their occupants waved energetically in support of the demonstration. Four or five students from the Washington College Republican Club were also present, though it is unknown if they were there in protest, in support, or just out of curiosity.  There were no disturbances. Two police officers were present and directed traffic.

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Maryland Oyster Season Opens with Bad News – Harvest Last Season down 42 Percent

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The public oyster harvest season began Monday, with Chesapeake Bay watermen no doubt hoping for a better haul this fall and winter than last. For Maryland watermen, though, there isn’t a lot of room for optimism.

Despite mild weather last winter, Maryland’s 2016-2017 harvest from public oyster bars was off nearly 42 percent from the year before, a steep drop from the modest decline seen the previous two years. Last season, 1,086 licensed watermen harvested 224,609 bushels of bivalves, down from a 384,000-bushel catch in 2015-2016, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

Chris Judy, DNR’s shellfish division manager, attributed the harvest decline last season to lower “spat sets” of juvenile oysters since 2012, the last year in which there was good recruitment or reproduction. Spat sets since then have been poor to middling.

Disease made a dent as well last season, at least in some areas. Intensity of Dermo, one of two parasitic diseases afflicting oysters, rose last year above the long-term average for the first time in 9 years and was the highest since the last major outbreak during a drought in 2002. The survey found elevated intensities from Pocomoke Sound north to the Wye and Miles rivers. Dermo-related mortalities also increased in some areas.

MSX, the other parasitic oyster disease, increased in prevalence on bars where it had been found previously, reaching a level 20-fold higher than what it was three years ago.

The DNR team that conducts annual surveys thought that the state’s oyster population last year had reached a crossroads, either pausing briefly before continuing to recover or on the cusp of another major decline. “Only time — and weather — will determine which direction Maryland’s oyster population will take,” the 2016 fall oyster survey concluded.

In Virginia, by comparison, harvest from public bars slipped 5 percent last season over the previous season’s take. The Virginia Marine Resources Commission tallied the harvest from public oyster bars at 246,000 bushels in 2016-2017, down from 259,000 bushels in 2015-16, according to Laurie Naismith, spokeswoman for the commission. The higher salinity of Bay water in Virginia tends to yield better oyster reproduction.

Maryland’s public oyster harvest season runs through March 31, 2018, while Virginia’s extends into April. The busiest portion of the oyster season will kick off Nov. 1, when harvest methods in Maryland expand from hand and patent tonging and diving to include power and sail dredging in designated areas of Calvert, Dorchester, Somerset, St. Mary’s, Talbot and Wicomico counties. Virginia’s public harvest is limited in early fall to the use of hand tongs and “hand scrapes,” a rake-like device; the fishery expands in November to include patent tonging and in December to power dredging.

Of course, for many consumers, the concept of an oyster “season” has blurred, if not faded altogether, as aquaculture has gained strength in the Bay. The output of Virginia’s private oyster farmers, who harvest bivalves year-round, has matched or exceeded the public oyster harvest most years. In Maryland, the growing but still fledgling industry produced 64,609 bushels last year, up from around 50,000 bushels in 2015.

Timothy B. Wheeler is managing editor and project writer for the Bay Journal. He has more than two decades of experience covering the environment for The Baltimore Sun and other media outlets.

Recycling — Make It Better

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Ford Schumann

“We’re doing our small part to save the Earth.”

So said Ford Schumann of Infinity Recycling, appearing at the Chestertown Council meeting Oct. 2. After giving an update on the program, he offered suggestions for improving the town’s curbside recycling program.

At present, Schumann said, 1367 — about 58 percent — of the households in town take part in curbside recycling, which he said is very good for a voluntary program. He said he has been distributing door hangers promoting the program to houses not yet enrolled.

Infinity conducts a dual-stream operation, in which residents are asked to sort their recycling into two categories: paper and containers – glass, plastic or metal. He said the advantage of dual-stream is that it produces a much higher level of usable material for the company. In single-stream programs, Schumann said, there is a 25 percent contamination rate, and almost none of the glass can be reclaimed. Because of the dual-stream operation, Infinity is able to reclaim almost all the glass it collects for recycling.

Also, the dual-stream system allows hand-sorting of the containers into marketable components on an assembly line. The assembly line crews are from the Benedictine School and Kent Center, Schumann said. For hiring Kent Center workers, Infinity received a Governor’s citation last week. He said he hopes to expand his payroll as business allows.

Schumann said Infinity has run out of the green recycling bins that were distributed by Kent County when it had a curbside recycling program, but has some in different colors for anyone who signs up for recycling.

As far as ways to improve recycling, Schumann noted that the town’s recycling bins are too similar in appearance to its trash cans, which means the two are often confused. “If you look at the contents of the two, they’re pretty much the same,” he said. He said it would make sense to paint the recycling cans blue, which is the color widely used for recycling containers. He said he could get volunteers to repaint the cans.

Also, if the recycling cans were placed next to the trash cans, it would make it easier for users to use them properly, instead of having to walk several yards to find the right container. He said New York City places recycling and trash containers next to each other and it seems to work well. “It would be great if we could do it,” he said. Also, he said, the town could require events to offer recycling. Many already do, but it could be made universal, he said.

Councilman Marty Stetson asked how Schumann is working to increase participation in the program. Schumann said he has begun distributing door hangers. He said he would also be willing to go door-to-door in evening hours to publicize the program. He said he signs up one or two households a week, on average.

Stetson asked if a once-a-week trash pickup would improve recycling participation. Schumann said that might work if the town began a program to pick up and compost organics. That could reduce the need for trash pickup to once every two weeks, Schumann said.

Stetson said it might encourage people to recycle if they knew it would reduce the amount going to landfills, which in the long run would result in a reduction of taxes that support operating a landfill in Kent County.

Councilwoman Linda Kuiper noted that the town pays a flat amount for each household in the recycling program, whether they put out recycling every week or not. She asked if the charge to the town would increase if more households recycled. Schumann said there would be an increase, but the town would also benefit from wider recycling and less trash going to the landfill. He said he would be willing to work out a town-wide rate, but that would mean the responsibility for increasing recycling would fall on the town, which might not be as aggressive in recruiting new households into the program.

Schumann was appearing on behalf of the town’s Environmental Committee, which makes monthly reports on its activities.

 

 

 

National Trust for Historic Preservation Grant Goes to Janes United Methodist Church

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Chestertown, MD  – The National Trust for Historic Preservation approved a matching grant in the amount of $25,000 under the Bartus Trew Providence Preservation Fund for the Eastern Shore of Maryland, for Janes United Methodist Church in Chestertown, Maryland in 2016, which has been extended through 2017.

“Organizations like Janes United Methodist Church help to ensure that communities and towns all across America retain their unique sense of place,” said Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “We were honored to provide this grant, and an extension, to Janes United Methodist Church, which will use the funds to help preserve an important piece of our shared national heritage.”

The overall project, funded in part under this grant, involves replacement of the roof and related work for this vital historic building that was constructed on a main street in downtown Chestertown by community members in 1914.

As a direct result of provision of this grant funding, and other sources, architectural services are in progress, with bid specifications and drawings continuing in development by the Project Architect, Peter Newlin, FAIA, of Chesapeake Architects, and in coordination with Jay Yerkes, President, Yerkes Construction Company.

The Church is seeking additional funding to avoid the increased cost of phasing the work.  This Bartus Trew grant will help the Church preserve this important historic structure by providing a watertight roof that is anticipated to last at least fifty years.  Additional funds will be needed for restoration of windows, and for masonry repairs to the Church’s rare sand-lime bricks.

For the past three years, the Church, and the Friends of Janes, a community–church partnership, have been raising funds through a community-based effort, and through other grant applications.  In 2014, the Maryland Historical Trust set aside $95,000 in African American Heritage funds, but the new roof, if genuine slate, is expected to cost $280,000.  The Church has applied for a second Heritage grant, which is under consideration for award.

The project’s architect, Peter Newlin, also a member of Friends of Janes, says, “The Church’s wood windows have deteriorated considerably since the original scope of work was put together in 2013.”  The Construction Manager, Jay Yerkes, and a member of Friends, estimated that “It will take at least $ 1,500 each to restore these historic windows properly, if the Heritage grant is approved.” Larry Samuels, also a Friend of Janes, who tracks the funds for the project, says, “If our community responds as it has previously, the Church will receive many small contributions, and enough large ones, to at least replace the roof.”

Janes United Methodist Church – Close-up of Slate Tile Roof

Ralph Deaton, Chair of the Church’s Finance and Building Committees, says, “Church leaders and their Friends will now have to raise at least $15,000 in matching funds for the project.” Anyone interested in helping can contact Ralph Deaton by telephone, 410-778-4154.  

Janes United Methodist Church – Close-up of Windows and Masonry

Matching grants from the National Trust Preservation Fund are awarded to non-profit organizations and public agencies across the country to support wide-ranging activities, including consultant services for rehabilitating buildings, technical assistance for tourism in conjunction with promoting historic resources, and the development of materials for education and outreach.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a privately-funded non-profit organization that works to save America’s historic places, to enrich our future. The National Trust is committed to protecting America’s rich cultural legacy, and to help build vibrant, sustainable communities that reflect our nation’s diversity. Follow us on Twitter@savingplaces.

For more information on National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Preservation Fund grants, visit their website. 

Photography by Jane Jewell and Peter Heck

Hogan Sues EPA over Power Plant Pollution from Neighboring States

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Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced a lawsuit Wednesday against the federal Environmental Protection Agency for failing to enforce limits on air-pollution control at 19 mostly coal-fired power plants in five states upwind of Maryland.

“We want the EPA to step in and make sure provisions of the Clean Air Act are followed,” said Ben Grumbles, Maryland’s secretary of the environment. “This is necessary to protect air quality and the Chesapeake Bay.”

The 19 plants have installed “smog controls,” according to the Maryland Department of the Environment. “But they’re not always running them when they should be,” Grumbles said.

About one-third of the nitrogen that ends up in bay waters comes from “air sources,” according to the EPA, which did not respond to multiple requests for comments by press time.

The original petition to the EPA requesting that the agency regulate the plants — in Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Indiana and West Virginia — was filed by the MDE in November. The EPA granted itself a six-month extension on the original 60-day deadline. By July, the agency still had not responded to the petition.

The Hogan administration and MDE contend the power plants in question have not “effectively” operated their pollution control systems during the summer months, also known as “ozone season,” and some have not used their pollution control systems at all.

Although most parent companies of the power plants cited in the Maryland petition did not respond to requests for comment by deadline, the Tennessee Valley Authority, which operates Paradise, a coal-fired plant in Kentucky, challenged Maryland officials’ claims.

“We do have emissions controls. They run when the plant is operating,” said Jim Hopson,TVA’s manager of public relations, who said he was not aware of the Maryland lawsuit. “They reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrous dioxide levels in excess of 90 percent and they eliminate particulate matter…All of our plants have those.”

The EPA defines the ozone season for Maryland and all the states named in the EPA petition as April through October, with the exception of Indiana, whose ozone season is April through September. Ozone levels are believed to be at their worst during the summer on sunny, hot days, particularly in urban environments, according to the EPA.

“Pollution from out-of-state power plants also harms our in-state streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay,” said Jon Mueller, vice president of litigation at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which plans to file a similar lawsuit with partners in the coming weeks. “Studies show nitrogen oxides from coal plant emissions degrade our water, and harm our fish and other aquatic life.”

In its original petition to the EPA, MDE expressed concern that nitrogen oxide emissions from the offending plants could prevent the state from achieving the required air-quality standards mandated by the Clean Air Act.

According to estimates in the Maryland petition, about 39,000 tons of nitrous oxide emissions could have been prevented in 2015 had the 19 power plants in question “run their control technologies efficiently.” In 2014, MDE said those same power plants had profited to the tune of $24 million by either not using their pollution controls or not using them effectively.

A request for comment from the American Coal Council as to why or why not a coal-fired power plant would employ pollution controls was not returned by press time.

“Maryland has made significant progress in improving our air quality in recent years, and that progress is in jeopardy due to a lack of action by the EPA that dates back to the previous administration,” said Hogan, a Republican, in a statement. “We strongly urge the EPA to approve the petition and enforce the air pollution controls…”

By J.F. Meils and Julie Depenbrock

US House Moves to Keep EPA from Enforcing Bay Pollution Diet

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In a move that environmentalists charged would undermine the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort, the U.S. House of Representatives voted earlier this month to bar the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from taking action against any state in the Bay watershed that fails to meet pollution reduction goals set by the EPA six years ago.

The measure, an amendment to an EPA and Interior Department spending bill put forward by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-VA, passed Sept. 7 by a largely party line vote of 214 to 197. On Sept. 14 the House passed the omnibus spending bill by a similar margin.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R–VA)

Three GOP House members from Pennsylvania — G.T. Thompson, Bill Shuster and Scott Perry — joined Goodlatte in introducing the amendments. Goodlatte, whose district includes most of the Shenandoah Valley, has pushed unsuccessfully before to block the EPA from enforcing its Bay “pollution diet.”

The 40 House members whose districts include a portion of the Bay watershed split nearly evenly on the controversial issue – 19 voted for it, 18 against, the latter including six Republicans. The Bay watershed delegations in Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia overwhelmingly supported curbing the EPA’s authority, while those from Maryland, Virginia and Delaware did not. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-MD, who would have opposed the amendment, was on medical leave and missed the vote. Rep. Tom Garrett, R-VA, also missed the vote. And Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-District, does not have a vote.

In a statement issued after the House vote, Goodlatte said his amendment was needed to prevent a “federal power grab” over the Bay cleanup effort. “My amendment stops the EPA from hijacking states’ water quality strategies,” he said. “It removes the ability of the EPA to take retaliatory or ‘backstop’ actions against the six states . . . if they do not meet EPA-mandated goals.”

Goodlatte said that Congress had intended for states and the EPA to work collaboratively to carry out the federal Clean Water Act. But in the Obama administration, he added, “every state in the watershed has basically been given an ultimatum — either the state does exactly what the EPA says, or it faces the threat of an EPA takeover of its water quality programs.”

But Kim Coble, vice president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said Goodlatte’s amendment would strip the federal-state restoration effort of needed accountability just as water quality is improving. She pointed out that the states had all agreed, after failing to meet earlier voluntary cleanup goals, to work toward the pollution reduction targets the agency set in 2010.

“However, only EPA has the ability to enforce the agreement in the event that a state fails to meet its commitments,” Coble said. “By suspending this backup enforcement authority, the Goodlatte Amendment threatens the viability of the [cleanup plan].”

The EPA annually reviews each of the six Bay watershed states’ efforts to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution as called for in the 2010 plan. If any state fails to meet its milestones and hasn’t done enough to get on track, agency officials have warned they’ll take “backstop” actions. Those can range from withholding federal funds to imposing regulations on smaller livestock operations or tightening discharge limits for wastewater treatment plants.

The EPA briefly withheld nearly $3 million in grant money from Pennsylvania in 2015 after finding the state lagging badly in curbing farm runoff and stormwater pollution. The money was restored, but the agency has since warned the state it may take additional actions if it doesn’t do more to meet its pollution reduction goals.

The EPA’s authority to enforce its “total maximum daily load,” or pollution diet, for the Bay, was challenged in federal court by farming and building groups. They were joined by attorneys general for 22 states — including Oklahoma’s Scott Pruitt, now the EPA administrator — who feared that the Bay pollution diet might inspire similar federal pressure on states to deal with nagging water quality problems elsewhere, particularly in the massive Mississippi River watershed. District and appellate courts upheld the agency’s authority in the Chesapeake case, though, and the U.S. Supreme Court last year refused to review those decisions.

The House has yet to take a final vote on the spending bill, which would provide $31.4 billion in fiscal 2018 to fund the Interior Department, EPA and several other agencies — restoring many, but not all, of the sharp cuts proposed by the Trump White House. The Senate also is still mulling its version of the bill, which could differ markedly from the House’s.

Environmental groups have said they will urge senators not to go along with the Bay amendment. It’s far from clear if the two chambers will be able to agree on the overall budget, a standoff that would effectively kill this restriction on EPA.

Sultana Downrigging Weekend – Tall Ships Return Oct 27-29

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Tall Ships arrive for Downrigging Weekend in Chestertown, MD – Sultana Education Foundation

Chestertown, Maryland – If the Sultana Education Foundation’s fabled Downrigging Weekend Festival held in Chestertown gets any bigger, they’re going to need a month to fit all in. As it is, though, they’ll have to squeeze it into three days, Oct. 27-29.

Since its beginnings 16 years ago, when Chestertown’s own schooner Sultana rendezvoused with the Pride of Baltimore, II, Downrigging Weekend has blossomed into an event that transcends tastes and interests of all kinds. And practically all of it is still free.

Silent Maid sailing with Pride of Baltimore II, photo by Michael Wootton

Besides becoming the largest annual gathering of Tall Ships in the Mid-Atlantic, Downrigging offers a smorgasbord of events and activities ranging from book talks, lectures and art exhibits to a parade of Ferrari automobiles and a half marathon (more on those Ferraris later).

Not counting four opportunities to sail (tickets start at $25) on one of eight participating Tall Ships, festival goers can choose from among more than 50 things to do or look at, including 11 live music performances, two days of Dock Dog competitions and an exhibition of model boats and ships.

New events at Downrigging 2017 include:

Friday night’s parade of lighted boats. A first for this area of the USA, this parade features illuminated boats on trailers, parading down High Street, Chestertown’s main drag. Three winners divide $1,000 in cash prizes. Be there at 6:45 pm.

Friday night’s headliner is Capt. Jonathan Boulware, executive director of the South Street Seaport Museum in New York City. Speaking at 8:00 pm at the Garfield Center, Boulware will provide an entertaining, historical tour through the history of the port of New York, the Museum that aims to interpret that history, and an overview of the recent, multiple-award-winning restoration of the mighty 1885 iron sailing ship Wavertree.

Saturday morning’s Ferrari parade. By coincidence, the Ferrari Club of America is meeting nearby over the weekend and agreed to add a splash of Italian auto pizzazz to this year’s gathering of wooden vessels. The cars appear on High Street immediately following the town’s Halloween parade, which starts at 11:00 am. There will also be a new Keels and Wheels exhibit.

A 1955 Morgan +4 Drophead Coupe will be featured as part of Downrigging Weekend’s new Keels & Wheels exhibit

Saturday evening features a recounting of the building of the schooner Sultana by acclaimed watercolorist Marc Castelli, who followed the project for three years, pen in hand and sketchbook at the ready. The program concludes with the first public release of Castelli’s book Building Sultana, which includes more than 200 pen and ink drawings along with his notes and stories. Starts at 6:00 pm in Sultana’s Holt Education Center, at 200 South Cross Street.

“Downrigging Weekend is bigger this year, that’s true,” said Drew McMullen, President of the Sultana Education Foundation, “and while we have nifty things like the dock dogs and Ferraris, the focus is still on our core missions – education and stewardship. It’s critical that all of us – and particularly the next generation – build a relationship with the Chesapeake Bay and learn what we can do to preserve and restore it. Downrigging Weekend will get more than 1,000 people out on the Chesapeake, an important first step in creating new stewards for the Bay.”

For more information and a complete festival schedule, visit Sultana’s website  or call 410-778-5954.

The Downrigging Fleet at Dawn, photo by Chris Cerino