New CPR Report: Maryland and Federal Authorities Should Prosecute Water Polluters More Frequently

by Aimee Simpson

September 24, 2012

Today, CPR releases a new white paper examining criminal enforcement of water pollution laws in Maryland.  In Going Too Easy? Maryland’s Criminal Enforcement of Water Pollution Laws Protecting the Chesapeake Bay, CPR President Rena Steinzor and I analyze a number of key questions concerning the critical, deterrence-based enforcement mechanism of criminal prosecution and its role in the Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts:

  • What have water pollution criminal enforcement efforts in Maryland looked like for the past 10 to 20 years?
  • What institutional challenges did criminal enforcement of water pollution laws in Maryland face?
  • What improvements could regulators, legislators, and practitioners make to better utilize this critical accountability tool?

In answering these questions, we reviewed publicly available data on criminal enforcement cases at both the state and federal level involving water pollution in Maryland, interviewed a number of past and present environmental prosecutors, and reviewed the existing policies and laws that enable criminal enforcement for certain kinds water pollution violations.

Our overall finding was that criminal enforcement was underutilized in Bay restoration efforts, by both federal and Maryland authorities. A few of the specifics:

  • During the past five years, federal water pollution concluded cases in Maryland shifted away from Clean Water Act-based charges to those involving violations of maritime laws, focusing on a narrow subset of pollution in the Bay;
  • At the federal and state levels, courts rarely impose incarceration for water pollution-based convictions, thus significantly reducing the deterrence value of criminal enforcement;
  • One of the greatest hindrances to environmental criminal enforcement is the lack of resources, particularly investigative resources; and
  • State and federal environmental criminal authorities collaborate too infrequently, reducing the effectiveness of the criminal enforcement mechanism.

Based on these and a number of other findings, we make several recommendations to encourage a stronger, more deterrence-based criminal enforcement program for water pollution violations in Maryland.  From restoring emphasis on environmental criminal enforcement to developing and participating in a Chesapeake Bay criminal task force, the recommended actions and policy improvements will allow a critical enforcement tool to help in achieving a cleaner Chesapeake Bay.

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