The Maryland state Senate passed a bill extending the EmPOWER Maryland energy efficiency program, following similar action in the House of Delegates. Senators voted, 32-14, to extend the program, which was created in 2008 to require utility companies to reduce per capita electricity use by 10 percent by 2015. The law didn't require the program to continue past 2015, although the state's Public Service Commission has supported the program and asked utilities to lay out plans to invest more in energy efficiency. The current bill would put the Public Service Commission's order into law to ensure that EmPOWER will continue. Under the program, utility customers are charged a fee on their monthly bills. The money is used for efficient appliances, home energy checkups, rebates and bill credits for reducing electricity use.
The Colorado Senate on Thursday passed a first-in-the-nation bill expressly permitting marijuana clubs. But Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) is hinting that he will veto the measure unless it bans indoor smoking. The bill allows local jurisdictions to permit bring-your-own pot clubs, as long as those establishments do not serve alcohol or any food beyond light snacks. The bill does not say whether those clubs could allow people to smoke pot indoors. That means it would be possible for a membership club that is closed to the public and has no more than three employees to permit indoor pot smoking. Sponsors say the bill is necessary because Colorado already has a network of underground, unregulated pot clubs, and towns are not sure how to treat them. Pot clubs could help alleviate complaints that Colorado’s sidewalks and public parks have been inundated with pot smokers since the state legalized recreational weed in 2012.
The Montana Senate on Wednesday advanced a bill to limit where drones can fly, after a lengthy debate on whether the legislation would actually protect property rights.Senate Bill 170, carried by Sen. Steve Hinebauch, R-Wibaux, would establish a civil penalty if a person flies a drone over private property below 500 feet. It also would change the minimum fine from $500 to $2,500 if a drone flew over a critical infrastructure facility.The bill would require drones to follow public roads and land, unless the user had permission to fly over private property.
A state House committee has unanimously endorsed an idea to take a close look into how Georgia lawmakers could help struggling rural communities. “I want this council to look at the big picture and recommend legislative actions that can empower our rural areas,” said House Speaker David Ralston, explaining House Resolution 389 to a House committee on Tuesday. The legislation would create the House Rural Development Council, a group of 15 lawmakers to be appointed by Ralston.
With more and more farmers interested in protecting and improving local water quality, Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding today reminded producers of a tax credit program that can help them develop plans and install measures that reduce nutrient and sediment runoff. Farmers can use Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) program tax credits to help offset the cost of writing conservation plans and nutrient management plans, purchasing conservation equipment, and implementing best management practices (BMPs) for their operations. “Pennsylvania’s clean streams law dates back to 1972,” Redding said. “Improving the ecology of our farm operations makes sense, and the REAP program can help make those improvements a reality. Healthy farms and healthy waterways are a concern for all of Pennsylvania, not just the Chesapeake Bay watershed, so I encourage all producers, regardless of where you farm, to take advantage of this opportunity.”
Oregon’s anticipated budget shortfall has prompted lawmakers to consider limiting tax credits for processing livestock manure into energy in biodigesters. Biodigesters break down manure, releasing methane gas which is used to generate electricity. The remaining solids have many uses. They are expensive, and farmers have used the tax credits to offset the costs. Under House Bill 2853, tax credits would only be available for manure processed in biodigesters that were operational before the end of 2016. The credit effectively costs Oregon about $4 million a year in foregone tax revenue and has the potential to grow more expensive due to the proposed construction of a large dairy, said Rep. Phil Barnhart, D-Eugene, during a March 7 hearing on HB 2853.
Wildfires across the country had consumed more than 1 million acres, taking at least 7 lives. The Oklahoma Forestry Service told CNN the fires burned 400,000 acres, and prompted Gov. Mary Fallin to declare a state of emergency for 22 counties.Officials in four other states said that 400,000 acres were destroyed in Kansas, 325,000 in the Texas Panhandle and 30,000 in Colorado -- not to mention the 6,000 acres burning in the Florida swamps near Naples that resulted in mandatory evacuations.
Destructive wildfires broke out in the Plains on Monday and grew quickly in size, forcing thousands to evacuate and contributing to the deaths of six people. The fires were fanned by strong winds on the western side of the same storm system that spawned an outbreak of severe storms in the Midwest. Crews battling the blazes may get a bit of a break as winds are forecast to die down to about 10 to 20 mph Wednesday. "These conditions will make it somewhat easier for firefighting efforts, but far from perfect," Storm Prediction Center forecast operations chief Bill Bunting told the Associated Press. "The fires still will be moving. The ideal situation is that it would turn cold and rain and, unfortunately, that's not going to happen." Parts of Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado and the Texas Panhandle were the hardest hit by the wildfires, which were so intense and large that they could be spotted by satellites.
Jesse Bounds thought the worst was over after a fire destroyed two barns, his machinery and $500,000 worth of straw last summer. In all, it was a loss of about $1 million. Then he tried to rebuild, and found his troubles had only begun. He dealt with the insurance company and got the necessary county building permits. But then a neighbor complained, and Bounds was told by the Oregon Department of State Lands that the 12 acres that had been farmed for years was actually a wetlands — a wetlands that didn’t appear on the State Wetland Inventory and had gone unnoticed. A permit to mitigate the damage to the wetlands would cost $57,000 per acre, a $684,000 extra bill to restore the family’s livelihood. Oregon landowners don’t have a simple, reliable method to find out whether their property is considered a wetland. House Bill 2785 takes the narrow approach, by exempting the replacement of a farm building “destroyed by fire or other act of God” from state wetlands mitigation laws. House Bill 2786 is more expansive, creating an exemption for any property that’s not designated as a wetland under the State Wetland Inventory.
Legislation to shield Washington wildlife managers and ranchers from death threats also could bar the public from learning where wolves are attacking livestock and what steps are being taken to prevent depredations. The House State Government Committee has unanimously endorsed withholding public records that name ranchers who report and state employees who respond to depredations. House Bill 1465 also would bar releasing “any information regarding the location of the depredation” that “reasonably could be used” to identify any person. The names of ranchers who sign agreements to use non-lethal measures to deter depredations also would be exempt from disclosure. The bill stems from unspecified threats last summer as the Department of Fish and Wildlife shot seven wolves in the Profanity Peak pack in the Colville National Forest. One producer told the Capital Press that the ranch was receiving daily death threats.