After an initial meeting last month to dissect and criticize the state’s new planning initiative, the General Assembly’s Rural Caucus moved on to other topics Thursday, including renewable energy and an agricultural investment program.
The Rural Caucus, chaired this year by Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, has scheduled meetings every two weeks to discuss issues of particular importance to Western Maryland, the Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland.
On Thursday, the agenda included:
• A presentation by Sen. Barry Glassman, R-Harford, on nutrient management and Chesapeake Bay pollution.
“The suburban and urban areas of the state have to step up,” he said, lamenting the burdens the state places on farmers.
• An update on the Maryland Agricultural and Resource-Based Industry Development Corp., or MARBIDCO, presented by Executive Director Stephen McHenry.
MARBIDCO helps farms diversify by offering financing for high-yield but riskier operations, innovative changes and land purchases.
McHenry said Washington County has been one of the top counties in the program, which invested about $5 million in loans and grants across the state in fiscal 2011.
• A discussion by lobbyist Jack Neil about geothermal heating and cooling.
A packet Neil shared with the caucus said “‘stored thermal energy’ in earth mass” is a renewable resource and can result in an energy savings of 25 to 50 percent, according to the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association.
Several caucus members signed up to co-sponsor a bill Del. Sally Y. Jameson, D-Charles, is filing to include geothermal heating and cooling in the state’s renewable energy portfolio standard, along with solar, wind, biomass and other forms.
• An alternative legislative redistricting plan Del. Michael J. Hough, R-Frederick/Washington, is filing.
Hough said his map would put every delegate in the state in a single-member district, instead of the current system, in which some districts group two or three delegates to represent larger numbers of constituents.
The caucus spent all of its first meeting on Jan. 26 tearing apart PlanMaryland, the state’s new planning document, while vowing to fight it.
A third caucus meeting is planned for Feb. 23.