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Maryland And Virginia Lawmakers Shift On Environmental Policy

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The Chesapeake Bay Bridge shown from a distance.
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge shown from a distance.

Maryland and Virginia legislative sessions wrapped up the year with progress on many environmental policy changes. Legislators in Maryland wait it out on fracking, while those in Virginia do away with utility incentives for renewable energy. Environment reporter Jonathan Wilson joins Metro Connection's Rebecca Sheir to recap some of the biggest environmental stories that came out of both state legislatures.

Here are some topics that they covered:

Gov. Martin O'Malley and environmentalists finally get an offshore wind power bill: After three years of debate, the governor finally signed into law a bill that supports wind power in Maryland. By adding an extra $1.50 per month to residents' electric bill, Marylanders will help subsidize an offshore wind farm. A large project would still require federal cooperation, and so an offshore wind project could still be years away.

Fracking debate rages on: Fracking opponents tried in vain to get a statutory ban on the natural gas drilling technique through the legislature. They argue that the technique, also known as hydraulic fracturing, could force dangerous chemicals and natural gas into groundwater with dire environmental consequences. Drilling industry advocates say there's no need to impose a ban before the Governor's Advisory Commission on Marcellus Shale delivers its final report — due next year.

Virginia changes renewable incentive system: To the dismay of some environmental groups, lawmakers in Richmond scrapped incentives for renewable energy sources such as solar power. A report from Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's office concluded that the incentives were not working, and could end up actually costing ratepayers unnecessarily. Utility industry advocates note that incentives are still in place for nuclear and offshore wind projects.

Hybrid car tax enrages environmentalists: A $64 yearly tax on hybrid car owners came as part of the Gov. Bob McDonnell's massive transportation bill. It's a way to make up for the fact that hybrid car owners pay less in gas taxes, which support road maintenance, even though they use the roads just as much. Environmental groups say the policy is punitive to drivers who are doing more to reduce fuel consumption and protect the environment — they vow to fight for repeal of the measure in the next legislative session.

[Music: "Living With the Law" by Chris Whitley from Living With the Law]


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