Gov. Martin O'Malley has declined to reveal details of one of his past priorities — his environmental agenda — but some legislators are developing and touting their own proposals.
House Environmental Matters Chairwoman Maggie L. McIntosh said she and other lawmakers are planning to propose a statewide, 5-cent refundable deposit on recyclable beverage containers. Although it would raise the price of a beverage six-pack, for example, by 30 cents, purchasers could offset that cost by recycling their used beverage containers.
Retailers who have opposed such bills would not be required to take back the used bottles and cans, which would be stamped for recycling refunds, said McIntosh (D-Dist. 43) of Baltimore. But retailers could choose to become reclamation centers under the proposal, the details of which are still to be decided, she said.
In other states, setting a refundable container recycling fee has created a $4 billion business and raised the rate of container recycling from 25 percent to 75 percent, McIntosh said.
Maryland Retailers Association vice president Jeff Zellmer said he does not believe many retailers would opt to reclaim the containers, because storing them requires more space and could draw thieves and rats.
Reclamation centers also would divert containers from local recycling programs, which depend on revenue from the containers, particularly aluminium cans, to support their operations, most of which already are subsidized, said Leslie Knapp Jr., legal and policy counsel for the Maryland Association of Counties.
And rural counties likely would have more difficulty getting and keeping the vendors they rely on to operate recycling programs, he said.
But McIntosh has indicated to MACo that she is aware of the association's long-standing concerns and is trying to take them into account, Knapp said. Soft drink bottlers also are opposed, said Ellen Valentino, executive vice president of the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Beverage Association.
A “forced” deposit is an “archaic solution” that would put products made and sold in Maryland at a competitive disadvantage as well as send a mixed signal or how to recycle, Valentino said. Plus, she said, “people will bring in bottles for deposits that were never paid.”
Beer distributors also are concerned, said Nick Manis, a lobbyist who represents the distributors. “They just raised the alcohol tax, and that's having big effect in border counties,” he said.
According to the Container Recycling Institute, states that have approved bottle bills recycle about 60 percent of beverage containers, and those that do not recycle about 24 percent.
O'Malley spokeswoman Raquel Guillory said McIntosh's proposal “sounds intriguing [but] we'd have to take a look at the details.”
The governor has declined to elaborate on what environmental initiatives he will propose, but a push for more measures to make the Chesapeake Bay cleaner will be on his agenda when he releases it next month, Guillory said.
O'Malley is considering several options to complete studies he has ordered to assess the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, of shale rock to extract natural gas and to determine how to protect the state and its residents from harm if it were allowed in Maryland, she said. Concerned that O'Malley's executive order could expire before the studies are complete, legislators who are worried about the possibility of methane leaks and that chemicals used in the process could infiltrate and pollute water supplies want to ban the process until the studies are done and impacts are assessed.
A bill that would have charged gas companies a fee on leases to pay for the study failed in the 2012 session. Sen. Joan Carter-Conway (D-Dist. 43) of Baltimore is chairwoman of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, where the measure died last year. Carter-Conway did not return calls for comment.
McIntosh said her committee passed a number of bills that would have restricted fracking last year and will wait for the Senate, putting pressure on the other chamber, to move some this year.
A coalition, including environmental and social justice groups and minority and faith leaders, has rallied around enacting the fracking moratorium and O'Malley's push — for a third time — for legislation to fund a wind farm off the coast of Ocean City.
Administration officials have said they expect to propose something similar to last year. That legislation would have added about $2 per month to household electric bills to help pay for developing the offshore wind farm. The House approved a measure that reduced the added charge to $1.50, but it failed to get enough votes to clear the Senate Finance Committee.
Sen. Thomas McLain Middleton, chairman of the Finance Committee, said he believes the bill could gain approval in his chamber — at the $1.50 level set by the House — if provisions were added, as they were in a law recently approved to expand table gaming in the state, to provide that minority-owned businesses would share in the development.
Sen. Catherine E. Pugh (D-Dist. 40) of Baltimore, who opposed the bill in the Finance Committee when it fell one vote short of approval, told The Gazette this week that she is concerned that minorities, who will be paying along with everyone else, also reap the benefits.
Wind power would be a new industry in the state, and minority businesses needed to be a party to that, Pugh said.
Other bills likely to be introduced will call for reducing waste and pollution by imposing a fee on disposable bags.
Montgomery County is the only Maryland jurisdiction with a bag tax, although others have considered it.
Also, legislation has been filed — and more is expected — that aims to protect sharks, rays and skates by banning commercial harvesting of their fins for shark fin soup or for sale as bait.
Staff Writer Daniel Leaderman contributed to this report.