Last year, when an environmental bill sponsored by Del. Gary Alexander (D-Prince George's) sailed through the General Assembly, sponsors and opponents of the legislation were surprised at the ease with which it became law.
The law, which requires sand and gravel mining companies in Prince George's County to pay for environmental impact studies performed by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, was the only one of a package of mining control bills introduced by Alexander to survive. Others failed in committee or were deferred for summer study.
This year, Alexander's bill, now law, has returned to the General Assembly for modification after industry representatives prevailed on State Sen. Frank J. Komenda (D-Prince George's) to try to amend it by placing a $5,000 cap on the amount of money the companies would have to pay for the studies.
Komenda said he and others were told that the studies the law calls for could cost some companies up to $75,000. Stan Udhiri, natural resources chief for the planning commission, said that the three studies conducted since the law went into effect last summer cost the commission between $7,500 and $11,000 because they were done by commission staff, rather than contracted out.
Komenda said he was approached by James Fannon, an attorney for the sand and gravel mining industry, to introduce this year's bill.
"What it does is take the bill from being open-ended on cost," said Komenda, who plans to amend his bill to increase the cap to $8,000.
The county planning board, the County Council and the County Executive's office have gone on record as opposing Komenda's bill.
Marion Brevard, the owner of Silver Hill Sand Gravel and Concrete Co., said that the current law "just slipped by" as a local bill last year because it applied only to Prince George's County.
Komenda's proposal would limit the factors that would have to be included in the environmental impact report, a change that would also drive down the cost of the report.
The planning commission now requires mining operators to submit their own environmental impact studies of areas in which they wish to mine. Under the new law, those companies also must pay the commission to conduct its own studies.
"So we're paying twice," said Brevard.
Udhiri said the extra studies are necessary for planners to make a complete assessment of what effect a mining operation would have on such things as groundwater quality and noise levels.
Alexander said that it does not bother him that the industry has to pay for an added study, but he also said he would favor placing a cap on the amount those companies pay.
"I'm not backing down," Alexander said of his decision to support Komenda's bill. "I think it has to be reasonable. Otherwise they'll use it as an argument to try to scuttle the whole thing eventually."
Brevard said that as many as 10 firms in Prince George's could be affected by the new law. The industry is already governed by the state surface mining law, which he said provides adequate control over proposed expansions.
Brevard estimated that the sand and gravel mining industry in the county is a $30 million to $40 million business and employs 1,000 people.
The bill will be heard by the bicounty committee chaired by Sen. Arthur Dorman (D-Prince George's).