This new state legislation advances private investment in green infrastructure, ecological restoration and social equity

On April 6, 2022, residents and leaders throughout the Chesapeake Bay region celebrated the passage of the Conservation Finance Act(SB0348) in the Maryland House of Delegates.

The CFA will become the first state law in the country that will expand the ways private financing can benefit state climate, water quality, restoration and conservation goals.

The bill makes green infrastructure, natural infrastructure and a focus on social equity a bigger part of a diversity of Maryland environmental programs.

Chesapeake Conservancy President & CEO Joel Dunn said “Like the federal government and communities across the country, the Chesapeake conservation community is working tirelessly to achieve a goal of conserving 30 percent of lands and waters across the nation by 2030. To achieve these goals and meet the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Agreement goals, we need to think more broadly about restoration and conservation. We need to incentivize and empower private investments.

With passage of the Conservation Finance Act Maryland promises to be a role model for other states to follow. The Conservation Finance Act will make progress happen faster and speed up the scale, pace and effectiveness of restoration investments,” Dunn added. “Thank you to Senators Sarah Elfreth, Jim Rosapepe, Katie Fry Hester, Guy Guzzone and William C. Smith, Jr. and Delegates Kumar Barve, Dana Stein, Sara Love, Regina T. Boyce and Mary A. Lehman for their extraordinary leadership to advance these bills. I’d like to extend additional gratitude to the many conservation nonprofits, private restoration and investment companies and state agencies who supported these proposals.

Chesapeake Conservancy’s mission is to conserve and restore the natural and cultural resources of the Chesapeake Bay watershed for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. They empower the restoration and conservation community with access to the latest data and technology.

They have also partnered to help create 194 new public access sites and permanently protect some of the Bay’s special places like Fones Cliffs, Elktonia/Carr’s Beach, Werowocomoco, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park, and Fort Monroe National Monument.

Environmental Policy Innovation Center Executive Director Timothy Male said “Environmental progress doesn’t always have to come with a taxpayer price tag. Around the world, there are more and more situations in which private capital is playing a role in improving water quality or delivering climate solutions. Or where private capital and incentives can ensure that public money is used more cost-effectively and quickly.

Maryland’s adoption of the Conservation Finance Act will make it the first state in the country to realize and act on this fact. The bill tweaks a handful of the state’s most important conservation programs⁠—as well as its contracting laws⁠—to make it easier for private finance and initiatives to play a role in helping achieve Chesapeake Bay, forest conservation, climate and environmental justice goals,” Male continued.

The Conservation Finance Act makes Maryland the first state in the country to create a climate⁠ and flooding-focused definition of green infrastructure. The first in the country to define blue infrastructure⁠—like oyster reefs and seagrass beds⁠—as important infrastructure to the state. And the first in the country to put a set of creative approaches for water infrastructure loans into law,” concluded Male. “In addition, these actions put Maryland in a better position to use new funding provided by Congress in the Infrastructure law to deliver bigger and better projects for Maryland’s environment and communities.

Many other elected leaders and co-sponsors added to the praise:

Senator Sarah Elfreth, the Act’s primary Senate sponsor, said “Meeting our Chesapeake Bay restoration goals requires an all-hands-on-deck approach. The Conservation Finance Act leverages the power of the private sector community to improve water quality, advance environmental justice and public health, expand initiatives around forest and agricultural soil carbon sequestration, and reward projects that deliver co-benefits like local jobs, flood risk reduction, and climate resilience–It will bring an unprecedented private-sector investment into this critical effort.

Senator James Rosapepe, Maryland Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Vice-Chair, said “To fight climate change and protect the Bay, we need to boost public and private investment in conservation. This new law is a big step forward.

Delegate Regina Boyce, one of the Act’s primary House sponsors, said “By including environmental outcomes in state procurement code and defining green and blue infrastructure, the Conservation Finance Act makes Maryland first in the nation in finding creative ways to finance environmental restoration.

Delegate Sara Love, another of the Act’s primary House sponsors, said “This legislation will deliver a triple bottom line for Maryland: it will help us to meet and exceed our environmental goals without requiring new public funding to do it, it will support local jobs and investment, and it will generate community benefits in disadvantaged parts of the state.

Delegate Kumar Barve, Maryland House Environment & Transportation Committee Chair, said “The Conservation Finance Act represents an innovative use of the market to further Maryland’s clean environment agenda.

Delegate Dana Stein, Maryland House Environment & Transportation Committee Vice-Chair, says “I am thrilled at the passage of the Conservation Finance Act. The Act will lead to greater private investment in blue and green infrastructure. I am particularly excited about the opportunity to leverage support from carbon markets, which can play a big role in reducing carbon emissions.

The House version of the same CFA bill, HB0653 has been reported favorably out of both Senate Committees and is headed to the Senate floor, for likely passage in the next few days. Both bills will be presented to Governor Larry Hogan for his anticipated signature.

Photo of Fones Cliffs courtesy of CBF.

See Chesapeake Conservancy website.

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