The Commission on Environmental Quality (CEQ) researches and reports on a wide variety of environmental topics of interest to the County based on inquiries by the County Executive, County Council and the public. CEQ Projects align with many current Baltimore County initiatives and recognitions such as the County Executive’s Green Renaissance, the Builders for the Bay Roundtable Process, Baltimore County’s Montreal Process agreement with the U.S. Forest Service, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and American Forests,and Baltimore County being ranked as one of the nation’s top Nature-Friendly Communities.
- Tree Canopy Cover
- Road Salt Use
- Plastic Bags
- Deer Overpopulation
- Conservation Landscaping
- Green Building
- Cool Cities-Sustainability
- Street Trees Removal Alternatives
- Baltimore County 10-Year Solid Waste Management Master Plan Comments
In response to the charge in Baltimore County Resolution Number 72-13, the CEQ prepared a report providing feedback on the County’s new tree canopy goals. The term ‘tree canopy’ means the crown of the tree, and in this report, the percentages refer to the percent of surface area under the tree canopy. Tree canopy includes both forested areas and urban trees around houses and other buildings.
The report is structured around four primary issues including the following:
- Recommendations for successful implementation of the tree goals
- Current tree canopy practices in the County
- Feedback from residential and business groups
- Review of tree canopy goals in other jurisdictions
Read the Full Report on Tree Canopy Cover(PDF).
In response to a request from Councilman Vince Gardina, the CEQ studied the environmental impacts of the use of salt to remove ice and snow from our roads. Many studies and sources address the impacts of road salt, and they indicate conclusively that salt use creates serious environmental problems, especially on water quality (including the impact on the drinking water supply for Baltimore City and 90 percent of the county population). Road salt also negatively affects aquatic and plant life and contributes to the deterioration of roads and bridges.
The current County practice of using road salt reflects both the relatively lower purchase price for salt and the County’s practice of following the state policy of having clear and bare roads within four hours of a storm event. Public Works Highway Division now reports the costs of salting roads and storm cleanup for each season.
The CEQ requested that the County study the various long-term costs of the use of road salt, and of the alternatives, as a step to minimizing the deleterious effects on the environment and public health. Both a summary and a link to the report are below.
Road Salting and Water Quality
Chloride salts are the most commonly used salts for deicing roads. When these salts are applied to roads, it takes colder temperatures to freeze water. On average, Baltimore County applies 1.2 tons of salt per lane mile per storm. Once roads have been salted, sodium and chloride are washed off the roads into soils, groundwater, streams, and drinking water reservoirs. The continued use of large quantities of salt on our roads is harmful to water quality and poses risks to human health.
The Effects of Road Salting
Existing treatment methods cannot remove salt from drinking water. Drinking water coming from Loch Raven Reservoir has already exceeded the EPA’s 20 mg/L health advisory. (The EPA advises people on low-sodium diets to avoid drinking water with concentrations higher than 20 mg/L).
While our bodies need small amounts of sodium, too much sodium increases the chances of high blood pressure and over time can lead to kidney failure. Increased levels of sodium negatively impact entire populations of plants and animals, both on land and in water. High levels of sodium hurt the uptake of nutrients and inhibit plant growth, harming wildlife food resources and habitats.
Salt corrodes roads, sidewalks, bridges, parking structures, motor vehicles, etc. Associated costs of maintenance and replacement of infrastructure will require additional tax funds. These problems will continue to worsen and will threaten public health and the environment unless we reduce the amount of salt entering our reservoirs.
Read the Full Report on Road Salt Recommendations (PDF).
On the request of council members concerned about the problem of litter and solid waste management, the CEQ has completed a report on single-use bags. There is much effort aimed at this issue locally, nationally, and internationally particularly concerning single-use plastic bags. Plastic HDPE single-use bags were first introduced in grocery stores as an alternative to paper bags in 1977. Now, in less than 35 years, estimates are that we use 500 billion to one trillion per year worldwide. Only a small fraction (one percent) is recycled; the rest filling landfills, or worse, littering the landscape with many eventually ending in marine environments where they harm wildlife.
The CEQ report reviews actions other jurisdictions have taken to address this problem. We conclude that a comprehensive approach with advance preparation and public support could be an effective way to cut back on the use of disposable, single-use plastic bags.
In an effort to reduce litter, save resources, and protect Baltimore County’s extensive coastal environments, we recommend:
- Educate and encourage residents to use reusable bags
- Educate and encourage the public to re-use existing plastic bags
- Institute curbside recycling of plastic bags
- Survey Baltimore County residents to assess re-usable bag use
- Assess resident attitudes towards small fees tied to Bay Restoration
- Encourage store managers to train store clerks to ask if customers want bags
Read the Full Report on Plastic Bags (PDF).
In April of 2009, the CEQ wrote a letter to the members of the Baltimore County Council and the County Executive expressing concern about the overpopulation of deer in the County, about the overall health of forests in the County, and in response to citizen concern about the impacts of deer overpopulation in and around County Parks and other County properties. After commending the County’s recent efforts to manage the deer herds on the Loch Raven Reservoir property, the CEQ noted that a decrease in deer population would improve the health of the forest buffer that safeguards the County water supply.
CEQ reviewed relevant research and reports about the effects of deer overpopulation on forest health, from which it concluded that a reduction of deer population size is essential to protect and preserve the County’s forests and recommended that the County implement the deer control measures recommended in the Oregon Ridge Park Forest Health Assessment and Forest Management Plan. In addition, the CEQ recommended that the County implement deer control measures in all County Parks and on all appropriate County lands so that the deer population is maintained at or below the documented sustainable carrying capacity of 10 deer per square mile.
The letter included a photo of deer exclosure fencing with overview of the impacts of deer on a healthy forest as well as relevant excerpts from the Oregon Ridge report, website links to the above-mentioned reports, and a list of other resources about deer and forests.
In November, the CEQ followed up with another letter to again stress the need for the County to take further action. In the meantime, members of the CEQ have discussed this issue with their respective Council members.
Conservation Landscaping (CL) is a method of designing and maintaining public and private lands, such as parks, building and school grounds, roadside plantings, and yards to:
- Reduce harm to the environment
- Save time and money with lower maintenance requirements
- Maintain healthier places to live, work, and play.
The CEQ's Conservation Landscaping Project Team (CLPT), comprised of members of the CEQ and representatives of Baltimore County’s Departments of Environmental Protection and Sustainability, Recreation and Parks, Public Schools, Public Works, Permits, Approvals and Inspections, and Neighborhood Improvement, addressed 11 major areas that would benefit from CL practices:
- air quality
- energy conservation
- pesticide or fertilizer reduction
- water quality improvement
- storm water management
- ecosystem management
- resource reduction
- aesthetic improvement
- community engagement
- maintenance practices
Read the Full Report on Conservation Landscaping (PDF).
CEQ members worked on the proposed Bill Number 118-06, which offers tax credits to residents for implementing energy efficient technologies in their homes. Although the CEQ provided suggestions for modification to improve the proposed bill, the bill has been tabled.
However, Bill Number 78-07, High Performance Buildings, was passed. This bill was a modification of Bill Number 85-06. The modifications expanded the tax credit to include the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for new construction, for core and shell, and for existing buildings. The tax credit was changed to 50 percent for those attaining a Silver level, 60 percent for Gold, and 80 percent for those at the Platinum level. The term of the credit was reduced to five years. These changes will allow the credit to be available to most new building construction and major renovations.
In 2008, Bill Number 28-08, High Performance Homes, was passed by the Council. County Code 11-2-203.2 provides a tax credit for homes meeting the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED for Homes. The amount of the credit is 40 percent for those at the Silver level, 60 percent for those at Gold, and 100 percent for those at the Platinum level. The term of the credit is three consecutive years. The credit is for new homes. There is not currently a LEED for Existing Homes; it is in development by USGBC.
In 2010, Bill Number 43-10, High Performance Homes, was passed by the Council. This bill includes a definition of High Performance Homes for existing homes that achieve certified increased energy efficiency based on improvements.
In response to a request from Councilman S.G. Samuel Moxley, Chair of the Baltimore County Council, the CEQ reviewed the Sierra Club’s Cool Cities program – a national effort designed to empower residents and local leaders to implement smart energy solutions, save money, and build a cleaner, safer future. The major components of the Cool Cities program include:
- Conducting a greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions inventory
- Greening vehicles
- Increasing energy efficiency of facilities and equipment
- Using and supporting renewable energy
In its report, the CEQ recommended that the County:
- Join the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) to receive technical assistance and other support services.
- Create a County structure to develop and implement a comprehensive policy to address climate change and sustainability. To achieve this, the County would:
- Establish a County policy to guide the Sustainability Program
- Designate a Director of the County Sustainability Program
- Establish a Public-Private Sustainability Workgroup, which would work with the Director of the County Sustainability Program and ICLEI in implementing specific program components. Suggested participants on the Workgroup include, at a minimum, representatives from the Office of Budget and Finance, Purchasing Bureau; the Department of Public Works, Bureaus of Building and Equipment Services, Engineering and Construction, and Traffic Engineering and Transportation Planning; the Department of Planning; and the Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management, among others.
- At a minimum, include in the County Sustainability Program, the core programs of Sierra Club’s Cool Cities:
- Conduct a GHG emissions inventory
- Green the County’s fleet of vehicles and consider GHG emissions in the transportation planning process
- Increase energy efficiency of County owned and operated facilities and equipment
- Procure and foster the use of renewable energy, credits, and technologies
- Encourage, educate, and develop an incentive approach for County employees and citizens to conserve energy. Design and implement a public outreach and education program about ways that citizens can reduce GHG emissions.
Read the Full Report on Cool Cities and Sustainability (PDF).
In response to public concern in the Stoneleigh Community over removal of mature street trees, in August 2007, the CEQ was asked to look into county practices and procedures for the removal of roadside trees, and to recommend what might be done to improve current procedures. The Committee met with the Department of Public Works (DPW) and discussed compliance with regulations, documentation, and resident education. DPW had a positive response to further work with the Committee on alternatives to removal and providing information to residents – including a web fact sheet, improved brochure, and a list of appropriate replacement street trees.
The CEQ reviewed Baltimore County’s 10-year Solid Waste Plan and developed a report outlining these key initiatives:
- Add toxicity to its mission statement and develop a comprehensive household hazardous waste management policy and programs
- Increase recycling to include public buildings, multi-dwelling residential apartments, hospitals, and public universities
- Assess different alternatives for recycling more plastics
- Expand collection at Western Acceptance Facility (WAF) and other feasible sites for electronics reuse/recycling
- Implement a single point resource recovery center in Baltimore County for construction debris
- Publish actual amounts of waste ending up at BRESCO, Eastern Sanitary Landfill (ESL), Western Acceptance Facility (WAF), Baltimore County Resource Recovery Facility (BCRRF), and out of state
- The CEQ recommends use of the current EPA hierarchy for managing the waste stream to reduce, recycle, and then dispose