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The Agricultural and Environmental Law Conference (AELC), hosted by the Agriculture Law Education Initiative (ALEI), is a unique event that brings together stakeholders from Maryland’s agricultural, conservation, and legal fields. The AELC focuses on the network of environmental laws affecting Maryland’s agricultural businesses. Themes for the 2021 AELC panels include recent changes in Maryland law that will impact legal standing to bring environmental enforcement actions and Chesapeake Bay clean-up efforts, legal strategies to strengthen food systems and increase equitable participation in federal conservation programs, and federal policy initiatives focused on prioritizing climate-smart practices for farm businesses.  For a detailed schedule and to register, visit go.umd.edu/umlawconfreg21.

Future and current environmental lawyers will not want to miss “Environmental Enforcement Actions: New Tools in the Litigation Toolbox?”  Expert panelists will discuss the Citizen Intervention Bill (HB76/SB334), a bill that has expanded the scope of who has standing to intervene in civil actions brought by the State in state court regarding enforcement of water pollution control or any related discharge permit, effluent limitation, or order issued by Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). Panelists will also analyze the Environmental Enforcement Reporting Act (HB204/SB324) which will require MDE to keep—and make accessible to the public—electronic records of enforcement and water pollution data.

The 2025 Chesapeake Bay clean-up goals continue to be a key topic this year. The AELC session “Legislative Strategies for Reaching Ag Sector 2025 Chesapeake Bay Clean-up Goals” will feature expert panelists Jason Keppler (Watershed Implementation Program Manager, Maryland Department of Agriculture) and Mark Hoffman (Maryland Director, Chesapeake Bay Commission). The experts will discuss how recent legal changes, including an increase in State funding for on-farm conservation and the Clean Water Commerce Act, will impact Maryland’s ability to reach water quality goals.

A panel on “Strengthening Local Food Systems Through Law and Policy: the Role of Food Policy Councils and the Certified Local Farm Enterprise Program” will feature Montgomery County Delegate Lorig Charkoudian, Maryland Department of Agriculture Assistant Attorney General Justin Hayes, and Director of the newly created Certified Local Farm Program Karen Fedor. Together the panelists will discuss recent Maryland legislation establishing a local food purchasing requirement – the Certified Local Farm Enterprise Program (2020, HB 1488) – and the Maryland Food System Resiliency Council (MFSRC) within the Maryland Emergency Management Agency (2021, HB 831/SB 723). Together, the initiatives created through these laws aim to address supply chain and equity issues in Maryland’s local food system.

The Biden administration announced in its Climate 21 Project Transition Memo an ambitious plan to encourage agricultural practices that combat climate change through carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas mitigation. Carbon sequestration will be the subject of an AELC panel entitled “Growing Carbon Credits: Should Maryland Farmers Open a Carbon Banking Account?” Although many of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s existing incentive programs already provide funding assistance for the adoption of “climate-smart” practices (i.e., conservation practices and water quality improvements), an official banking mechanism will require, at the least, consistent accounting standards, equitable opportunities for participation, and acceptance by industry. Panelists Josh Maxwell, Policy Director for the Republican Leader of the House Agriculture Committee, and Dr. Shannon Ferrell, Professor, Department of Agricultural Economics, Oklahoma State University, will highlight the mechanics of carbon banking and the anticipated role of the federal government.

The AELC will also feature an always popular panel “Developing Issues in Agricultural and Environmental Law” featuring recent changes to Maryland’s nutrient management and confined animal feeding operation laws and developing agricultural and environmental law issues to watch out for in 2022.  In addition, three experts, from the University of Maryland Extension, Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), and ALEI, will sit on a panel entitled “Using Legal Education to Increase Equitable Participation in NRCS Conservation Programs” to discuss an exciting new educational series that will empower farmers through legal education.

This year ALEI will host the event on a virtual platform over two days: Wednesday, Nov. 17, 1 p.m. – 4 p.m., and Thursday, Nov. 18, 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. Registration is $35.00; students attend for free. For more information or to register, please visit go.umd.edu/umlawconfreg21.