Written by: Jamal Childs & Ben Alexandro

Within the rooms of the Maryland and Virginia General Assemblies, legislators came together in 2024 to enact some conservation and environmental bills. These bills are a few examples of the legislative efforts aimed at safeguarding our natural resources and fostering sustainable practices. Some bills included have raised concern and sparked debates. Amidst these differing viewpoints, the passage of these bills signifies the ongoing struggle to balance environmental protection with competing interests and priorities.


The passage of the Whole Watershed Act (SB0969/HB1165) signifies a groundbreaking stride in Maryland’s dedication to environmental stewardship. This legislation lays the groundwork to revolutionize restoration efforts across the state by leveraging high-resolution data to target the implementation of best management practices that rapidly restore impaired streams. Collaboratively selected pilot projects, guided by local stakeholders and elected officials, will target specific watersheds, ensuring tailored restoration efforts. These projects will be overseen by a State Management Team composed of agency experts tasked with streamlining project permitting, coordinating efforts, and assessing project outcomes. The Whole Watershed Act heralds a new era of organized and collaborative approaches to watershed restoration, propelling Maryland toward its Chesapeake Bay restoration goals with accelerated and meaningful results.

Senate and House Chambers of the Maryland and State house in Annapolis.

The Comprehensive Flood Management Grant Program (HB0449/SB0148) further underscores Maryland’s commitment to equity and resilience. With a mandate to allocate at least 40% of funding to underserved communities, this initiative ensures that those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change receive the support they need to thrive. The authorization for a substantial annual appropriation of up to $20,000,000 demonstrates a firm commitment to proactive flood management strategies.

However, while some legislation will move conservation forward, recent budget cuts highlight the ongoing struggle to balance conservation with fiscal constraints, posing potential setbacks for the preservation of Maryland’s natural heritage, resources, and quality of life. For example, there was a reduction of $6.5 million in funding for Program Open Space, which reflects the challenges facing Maryland’s long-standing commitment to conservation and outdoor recreation. Program Open Space has been a cornerstone of Maryland’s efforts to preserve natural resources and enhance outdoor recreational opportunities for citizens. Maryland’s Rural Legacy Program and Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation also face significant budget reductions as compared to last year.

The Critical Infrastructure Streamlining Act (CISA) of 2024 (SB0474/HB0579) supports data center growth in Maryland. CISA is aimed at making it easier to build backup power generation facilities needed for backup power and maintenance for data centers. This legislative framework removed a clear barrier to the expansion of data centers in that state. The law also modifies the distribution of tax revenue from corporations, particularly those operating data centers. Data centers require a significant amount of power in addition to their physical footprint, which creates conservation challenges, as discussed in our previous lightning update, Data and Energy, A Growing Conservation Challenge.

Old House of Delegates Chamber, Virginia State Capitol, Richmond, Virginia, United States


Virginia wrapped up its 60-day general assembly in March and the governors’ veto session in April. While many bills did not reach the finish line by the end of the session, in some cases, Virginia legislators joined the chorus of conservation champions in the state by passing impactful bills. The final two-year budget also includes some positive investments for conservation.

The Forestland and Urban Tree Canopy Conservation Plan (HB309/SB461) signals a proactive approach to preserving green spaces in the face of urbanization. By requiring the development of a comprehensive conservation plan, Virginia is taking proactive steps to protect its natural heritage for future generations.

The Virginia bill SB 121/HB 459 is about protecting trees during the process of developing land in certain areas. It gives more power to local governments to make rules about planting and replacing trees when new buildings or roads are being built. One big change is that it allows a fund that’s used for planting trees on public land to also be used for taking care of those trees and planting new ones on private property. The bill removes a rule that says any money collected for this fund has to be given back to the original contributor if it’s not used within five years, but it still says that the money has to be used within that time frame. It also makes it easier for developers to get credit for planting trees, which can help them meet requirements for how much green space they need to have.
Other bills focused on investing in Virginia’s outdoors, including Virginia’s Great Outdoors Act (HB1297) and the Wildlife Corridor Grant Fund (SB455) did not pass this year.

The Virginia governor signed a two-year state budget on May 13th. This budget supports flood resistance by allocating $100 million toward the Community Flood Preparedness Fund, which helps local governments plan and implement natural flood solutions. It also conserves trees by funding a study to examine the causes of Virginia’s tree loss and find ways to expand the state’s tree canopy.

Virginia State Capitol

Analysis and Implications:

The passage of these bills marks significant milestones for conservation and environmental initiatives in Maryland and Virginia. By tackling critical issues such as watershed restoration, energy efficiency, flood management, and urban greenery conservation, these legislative measures set the stage for a more sustainable and resilient future. Despite lingering challenges, the enactment of many of these bills signifies a notable advancement in our shared commitment to safeguarding and maintaining our natural resources.
As the gavel falls on the 2024 legislative sessions, Maryland and Virginia made progress in their commitments to conservation and environmental stewardship. These bills, despite some challenges, are just a few examples of many more that represent the states’ shared vision for a greener, more sustainable future. As we look ahead, let us continue to build upon these successes, forging a path toward a brighter tomorrow for both our communities and our watershed. Two statewide partnerships that follow conservation issues closely in each state are Virginia’s United Land Trusts and Forever Maryland, which have a wealth of knowledge and expertise on these and many more bills. For more information and session recaps, organizations such as Virginia Conservation Network also worked with partners to present an engaging presentation recapping the 2024 VA general assembly.

Lightning Update is a regular communication of the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership. Any opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions of the Partnership or member organizations.
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Support for the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership is provided by:
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EPA Chesapeake Bay Program
USDA Forest Service
Pennsylvania Department of Conservation & Natural Resources
Maryland Department of Natural Resources
Virginia Outdoors Foundation
US Fish & Wildlife Service
Chesapeake Conservancy

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