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It's going to be a big year for the environment — especially in Maryland, where state lawmakers will be debating the future of both wind power and fracking. Also on the docket will be a few mega lawsuits addressing what the EPA can and can't do in pursuit of clean water. And then there's the fate of a small oily fish that's a big deal to the economic and natural health of the Chesapeake Bay. Metro Connection's Rebecca Sheir talks to environment reporter Sabri Ben-Achour about the big eco-debates in our region. Following are highlights of their conversation.
On the Chesapeake Bay:
"You can't live in this area and not talk about the Chesapeake Bay, a trillion-dollar resource, nation's largest estuary and the focus of this massive clean up effort between six states, D.C. and the EPA. So to refresh your memory it goes like this: The states have all promised to reduce pollution, the EPA made them come up with concrete plans on how to do that, and now they're putting them into place."
On challenges local counties are facing to pay for the Bay Cleanup Plan:
"That is what the big issue has been and is going to be this year. And to put it succinctly, Bonds, taxes and utility bills. We're fixing sewage treatment plants so they don't release so much waste into rivers, and the other thing is controlling runoff from gutters — what we call storm water. D.C.'s wastewater treatment plant is still getting upgraded — that's $2.6 billion paid for largely by utility bills. Then there are other big projects to somehow contain runoff from streets, roofs gutters... in all the urban areas... Counties are going to start collecting fees or increasing the fees they do collect, and then using that to back bonds to pay for all of these big infrastructure changes."
On whether a bill to subsidize a wind farm off the coast of Maryland will pass the Maryland General Assembly:
"I think it has a better chance than it ever has before. I think a lot of the issues have been worked out, and a lot of the horse-trading has been done, so I think this might be the year that it passes. It'll mean Marylanders will pay around $150 more on their electric bill according to Maryland Senate President Mike Miller."
On uranium mining in Virginia:
"There are about 119 million pounds of uranium ore in Southeast Virginia worth $10 billion, and the state has banned anyone from digging it up for 30 years. On the one hand, market demand for uranium is heating up, there are new power plants coming online in the next few years, supplies from Russian warheads are running out, so there's a lot of demand. On the other hand, of course, is the safety issue — what do you do with mine tailings or waste, basically gravel. Where and how do you store it? Some analyses show that if there were some kind of release, it could contaminate drinking water supplies for a year or even two, but reports done for the industry say we're talking about gravel... it's easy to contain. The state's Coal and Energy Commission voted 11-2 in favor of the General Assembly considering legislation to overturn the ban on uranium mining in Virginia. We'll see how legislators respond."
[Music: "Tomorrow" by Avril Lavigne from Let Go]