Confusion, Frustration as Maryland High Court Hears Stormwater Permits Case

by Evan Isaacson | November 18, 2015

Last week the Maryland Court of Appeals heard several hours of oral argument in back to back (to back) cases regarding whether five different municipal stormwater (“MS4”) permits issued by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) complied with the federal Clean Water Act and state water pollution laws. Although divided into separate cases due to their unique procedural histories, the three cases were consolidated into one marathon oral argument due to the substantial overlap of the issues involved. The legal arguments have changed significantly since the first motions and petitions were filed several years ago, with some of the most ambitious legal theories having fallen away. What remains in dispute in these cases are largely procedural, though still crucial, issues regarding how to structure the permits so as to ensure that the permits are enforceable and that the counties are accountable to the public. Basically, the cases boil down to a total and justifiable lack of trust in MDE and the counties to get the job done.

In fairness to MDE, it must be noted that the permits contain some very ambitious and laudable goals, which represent some of the most stringent MS4 permit terms in the country. The issue is that neither the counties, nor MDE has come close to living up to the promise of these permits.

A little background is in order. MS4 permits are a unique regulatory tool of the Clean Water ...

EPA Cracks Down on Stormwater Pollutants in Rhode Island

by Evan Isaacson | October 27, 2015
Here in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, polluted runoff from impervious surfaces, such as roofs, driveways, parking lots, and a vast network of roads, is a huge problem.  In fact, while pollution from wastewater treatment plants has decreased significantly since EPA established the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) several years ago, and while overall agricultural pollution has even decreased slightly during that same general period, nitrogen pollution from stormwater has actually increased since 2009. The lack of progress in ...

Pound-Wise and Penny-Foolish in the Chesapeake Bay

by Evan Isaacson | October 19, 2015
It’s a staple of the right-wing assault on government that “bloated” government programs, like those intended to protect the environment, are a burden to taxpayers. In my home state of Maryland, the numbers demonstrate otherwise. The percentage of taxpayer dollars spent by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) is tiny and getting tinier.  In 2014, less than one-quarter of 1 percent of the state’s general funds were expended by MDE, a 40-percent reduction in this share since 2004.  In ...

Bay Experts Debate Effectiveness of Nutrient Management

by Evan Isaacson | August 24, 2015
As readers of this blog and watchers of the Bay restoration process understand, states are under increasing scrutiny regarding their progress, or lack thereof, implementing the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) as we approach the 2017 midpoint assessment. But behind the scenes, a federal-state partnership known as the Chesapeake Bay Program is also tasked with working on the framework for tracking implementation of the Bay TMDL. This framework consists of establishing and improving many guidelines and protocols used ...

Farm Bureau Loses Another Clean Water Case

by Evan Isaacson | August 14, 2015
This week provided another important legal decision in the fight to regulate polluted runoff from agriculture.  A California lower court on Tuesday ordered the State Water Quality Control Board to reconsider its ineffective regulations on agricultural operations in the Central Coast region.  Judge Timothy Frawley of the Sacramento Superior Court ruled in favor of the Monterey Coastkeeper, the Otter Project, and other environmental and commercial and recreational groups, as well as a resident who could no longer drink her tap ...

Montgomery County Should Appeal Stormwater Case

by Evan Isaacson | July 27, 2015
Last Wednesday, a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge held that the Montgomery County Water Quality Protection Charge is invalid and that the plaintiff should not have been required to pay any stormwater fee to the county. The case could have significant ramifications across the state for jurisdictions that have, like Montgomery County, established a stormwater fee similar to the one invalidated in the case. First, some background.  In 2012, the Maryland General Assembly passed HB 987, which required any jurisdiction ...

Two Interesting Things About the Chesapeake Bay TMDL Decision

by Dave Owen | July 07, 2015
In a blog post yesterday, Todd Aagaard provided a quick summary of yesterday’s Third Circuit decision rejecting the Farm Bureau Federation’s challenge to the Chesapeake Bay TMDL.  This is an interesting and important case, and it will take a while to digest.  But just based on a preliminary read, a few issues seem particularly interesting and important. What does TMDL mean?  The Third Circuit interpreted section 303(d) in a way that seems to afford EPA—and the states—discretion in determining the ...

CPR's Steinzor on the Third Circuit Court's Decision to Uphold the Chesapeake Bay's TMDL Program

by Rena Steinzor | July 06, 2015
The Third Circuit’s decision today is a tremendous victory for the elusive goal of restoring the Chesapeake Bay to the point that it is ecologically healthy.  As the Third Circuit made clear, the Farm Bureau’s relentless and self-serving opposition to EPA’s leadership in this area misreads the law.  Strong federal pollution controls are the last hope for the largest estuary in the world and for the millions of people who trek to its shores to enjoy its amazing beauty.  The ...

West Virginia's Bay TMDL Progress Needs to Accelerate

by Evan Isaacson | July 01, 2015
Editors’ Note:  This is the sixth in a series of posts on measuring progress toward the 2017 interim goal of the Bay TMDL.  The first five posts cover the region as a whole, and then Maryland,  Pennsylvania, New York, and Virginia, Future posts will explore the progress of the two remaining jurisdictions. Like New York, the State of West Virginia can seem a bit distant from the Chesapeake Bay and the process of implementing the Bay Total Maximum Daily Load ...

NY's Bay TMDL Progress Report: Ignoring a Worthwhile Investment

by Evan Isaacson | June 24, 2015
TMDL.  The first four posts cover the region as a whole, and then Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland.  Future posts will explore the progress of the remaining three jurisdictions.                 So far, we have evaluated progress of the three core jurisdictions in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed in reducing nutrient and sediment pollution under the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (Bay TMDL).  These “big three” states and members of the Chesapeake Bay Commission are the ...

Maryland's Bay TMDL Report: A Tale of Two States

by Evan Isaacson | June 22, 2015
Editors’ Note:  This is the fourth in a series of posts on measuring progress toward the 2017 interim goal of the Bay TMDL.  The first three posts cover the region as a whole, and then Pennsylvania and Virginia. Future posts will explore the progress of the remaining four jurisdictions.                 Judging from the Chesapeake Bay Program’s modeling of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland is a tale of two states when it comes to ...

PA's Dismal TMDL Report: An Opportunity for Change

by Evan Isaacson | June 17, 2015
We recently explored how Virginia’s progress toward meeting the 2017 interim goal for the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (Bay TMDL) is mostly the product of decades’ old financial commitments.  So, we might hope to see much of the same from Pennsylvania, a fellow member of the Chesapeake Bay Commission since 1985.  Unfortunately, despite decades of participation in the various agreements to clean the Bay, Pennsylvania’s lack of progress is the single biggest reason to worry about the future ...

Virginia's Bay TMDL Progress Report: A Complete Picture

by Evan Isaacson | June 17, 2015
This is the second in a series of posts to explore progress in cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, as reflected in recent data from the Chesapeake Bay Program’s elaborate computer model of the Bay, which accounts for what the states are actually doing to reduce pollution. Read the first post, taking a look at the overall region’s progress, here. Judging solely from the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Watershed Model, the Commonwealth of Virginia is doing a pretty good job of reducing ...

Maryland Releases Assessment of Future Financing Needs for Bay Restoration

by Evan Isaacson | June 09, 2015
The State of Maryland released a long overdue report on Monday regarding the state’s plan to finance its implementation of the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (Bay TMDL) requirements.  The report was prepared by the Environmental Finance Center at the University of Maryland on behalf of the Maryland Department of the Environment, the Department of Natural Resources, and several other agencies in response to a 2014 request by the budget committees of the Maryland General Assembly. Originating from a ...

Bay TMDL Progress Report: A Critical Moment

by Evan Isaacson | June 01, 2015
In April, the Chesapeake Bay Program – a federal-state partnership dedicated to restoring the Bay – unveiled data tracking nutrient and sediment reductions since 2009, the year when the seven Bay watershed jurisdictions committed to new multiyear “milestone” goals in preparation to comply with the impending Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL).  With two years remaining until the midpoint assessment for the Bay TMDL, the data show mixed results.  Before delving in to those results, it is important to ...

Oral Argument Begins in Farm Lobby’s Misguided Challenge to Bay Pollution Diet

by Anne Havemann | November 18, 2014
Today, the Third Circuit will hear arguments in a case to determine whether the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) overstepped its authority when it established a pollution diet for the Chesapeake Bay. After decades of failed attempts to clean up the Bay, the pollution diet imposes strong, enforceable deadlines for cleanup. Even without distracting and misguided legal challenges from out-of-state lobbying groups, the restoration battle won’t be easy. The plan has been in place since 2010 and still the Bay experienced ...

EPA's Enforcement Retreat will Harm the Chesapeake

by Anne Havemann | February 04, 2014
Every day, we are presented with more evidence of the need to inspect for environmental violations and enforce the nation’s laws.  The evidence is stark in the Chesapeake Bay region where, in 2012 alone, just 17 large point sources reported illegal discharges of nitrogen totaling nearly 700,000 pounds.  These violations put the watershed states behind in their efforts to restore the estuary and meet the 2025 goals of the Bay pollution diet.  The problem cries out for stronger enforcement of ...

Bidding for Pollution Control Dollars in the Chesapeake: A Modest Proposal for the Amish Farmer

by Shana Campbell Jones | June 10, 2010
If I remember my Sunday School lessons correctly, “clean living” should result in a lot of good things in addition to a heavenly reward: a strong character, an orderly home, and a healthy body and environment.   Ironically for the Amish, a clean living group if there ever was one, clean living also produces dirty waters. As yesterday’s New York Times article reminds us, Amish farms in Lancaster county generate more than 61 million pounds of manure a year – much of ...

Chesapeake Bay

The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in North America, home to more than 3,600 species of plants and animals. The Chesapeake Bay watershed—the land that drains into the Bay—encompasses parts of six states and Washington, D.C. This national treasure has been deteriorating since the 1930s. The Obama Administration made important progress, however, pressing states to reduce pollution flowing into the Bay.. 

Clean Water Laws Need to Catch Up with Science

Isaacson | Nov 29, 2017 | Chesapeake Bay

How Tax 'Reform' Impacts the Bay -- and Everything Else

Isaacson | Nov 17, 2017 | Chesapeake Bay

Summer: The Season of Sickness for America's Waters

Isaacson | Aug 16, 2017 | Chesapeake Bay

The Unclean Water Rule

Isaacson | Jul 13, 2017 | Chesapeake Bay

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