Last week, a Maryland circuit court ruled that the state must regulate and limit ammonia pollution from industrial poultry operations. This landmark decision takes an important step toward protecting the environment and public health in the Old Line State and could spur similar action in other states.
It is certainly needed in Maryland. The state's Lower Eastern Shore is home to a large number of industrial poultry operations; three Lower Eastern Shore counties house close to 44 million chickens at any given time — roughly 241 times greater than the number of people in the region.
Every year, these operations release millions of pounds of ammonia — a form of nitrogen — into the environment, polluting our land, water, and air. Ammonia is a colorless compound formed when nitrogen in chicken manure breaks down. It enters the air as a gas and can land on the ground, polluting groundwater and nearby waterways.
Exposure to airborne ammonia contributes to poor health in nearby communities. Ammonia is water soluble and, when inhaled, quickly dissolves in the upper respiratory tract, irritating the eyes, nose, and throat. It also has a strong, unpleasant odor. In residential communities near industrial livestock operations, airborne ammonia concentrations are positively correlated …
Businesses that violate environmental laws and permits damage our air, land, and water, sometimes irreparably. Yet too often, these polluters aren't held accountable for harming the environment and public health. In Maryland, state officials don't respond to all violations, and, when they do, they aren't always successful. Even when they are successful, fines and other penalties don't necessarily result in behavior change. As a result, Maryland polluters are largely off the hook for the "externalities" of doing business.
To deter pollution, we need true accountability. We must ensure polluters pay for all harm done, whether to the environment, humans, and other species and habitats. Unfortunately, Maryland, like most other states, is a long way from achieving this goal. At CPR, we're tracking bills in the Maryland legislature that, if passed, would set the state on a path to greater compliance with environmental laws. These bills would:
Seven years ago, public officials in cash-strapped Flint, Michigan, cut city costs by tapping the Flint River as a source of public drinking water.
So began the most egregious example of environmental injustice in recent U.S. history, according to Paul Mohai, a founder of the movement for environmental justice and a professor at the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability.
When they made the switch, city officials didn’t properly treat the new water, which allowed lead from corroded pipes, bacteria, and other contaminants to leach into the public drinking water supply. Flint residents, who are disproportionately low-income and Black, immediately raised alarms about the fetid, brown water flowing out of their faucets and cited health problems, such as hair loss and rashes.
But the city didn’t officially acknowledge the problem or begin to take decisive action until a year and a half …
When it comes to addressing climate-related flooding, Maryland has made progress.
In 2014, it created a "Coast Smart Council" at the state's Department of Natural Resources. Councilmembers, representing government, academia, business, advocacy, and other sectors, work together to develop science-backed resources and rules that govern development of state-funded projects in coastal and flood-prone areas.
Meanwhile, state agencies and local jurisdictions work under the council's auspices and with the benefit of resources. such as local government studies and plans to address climate-related flooding. They also have a new interactive mapping tool — the Climate Ready Action Boundary — to help local governments and the public explore flood-prone boundaries in Maryland. Those who use the tool can make informed decisions about development in areas vulnerable to flooding or sea level rise. Any state development built within the flood-prone boundary must be designed with flood-resilient features.
But these actions don't come close …
As a coastal state, Maryland is especially vulnerable to climate and ocean change — but important environmental protections are woefully out of date, endangering Marylanders' health, safety, economic welfare, and natural resources.
Maryland could take a step to rectify that this year. State lawmakers are advancing important legislation that would bring outdated water pollution rules up to speed and protect Marylanders and the environment.
Senate Bill 227 would require stormwater design standards and permits to reflect current rainfall patterns and put the state on a trajectory to assess and regularly update them in the future. We need appropriately designed stormwater practices to capture and treat greater rainfall volumes to reduce pollutants, like nitrogen and phosphorus, that contaminate water when it rains. And we need the standards to mitigate flooding and other physical impacts.
Hurricanes are increasing in frequency, size, strength, and rainfall volume, and they're following increasingly northward …
Last week, I joined Maryland Del. Vaughn Stewart (D-Montgomery County) and State Sen. Katie Fry Hester (D-Carroll and Howard counties) to discuss pollution threats to the state’s drinking water and legislation that, if enacted, would create a private well safety program in Maryland.
The quality of drinking water holds personal significance for both legislators. Stewart grew up in a small Alabama town where a Monsanto chemical factory knowingly dumped toxic polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) chemicals in the local water supply. He has since developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma — a cancer associated with PCB exposure — twice.
Hester has also confronted this issue. When she moved to Ellicott City a few years ago, she discovered that hazardous levels of radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas associated with lung cancer, were leaching into her home’s well water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not regulate radon, so homeowners like …
The Maryland General Assembly is kicking into full gear — and we at the Center for Progressive Reform are tracking bills that would protect the health and safety of Maryland workers in the food and farm sectors. These protections are urgently needed to protect these workers from COVID-19 infections and keep the public healthy and safe. The bills we're watching would:
The Maryland General Assembly is back in session — and we at the Center for Progressive Reform are tracking a number of bills that, if passed, will have a lasting impact on the people of Maryland and their environment. Several could also spur other states to improve their own environmental and public health protections.
We’re watching bills that would:
Ever since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a dangerous (and now-rescinded) policy relaxing enforcement of environmental protections in March, the Center for Progressive Reform has watchdogged responses from state environmental agencies in three states in the Chesapeake Bay Region — Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
While the EPA essentially gave companies a free pass to hide pollution violations during the pandemic, most states set up processes to handle COVID-19-related noncompliance. Environmental agencies in Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania received dozens of waiver requests related to water, land, and air quality protections, pollution controls, sampling and monitoring, inspections, and critical infrastructure deadlines.
A majority of these requests were related to the pandemic. But others, such as those seeking to delay important deadlines for construction projects, were not. This suggests that some polluters are using COVID-19 as an excuse to subvert or delay deadlines that prevent further air or …
Dangerous nitrate pollution has contaminated the groundwater that supplies private drinking water wells and public water utilities in several agricultural regions across the United States, posing a significant threat to people's health. A new report from the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) indicates that this problem has reached Maryland's Lower Eastern Shore, an area that's home to hundreds of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and millions of chickens.
Nitrates are a compound formed when nitrogen, largely from manure and fertilizer, breaks down. When manure is overapplied or mismanaged, rainfall or irrigation can cause nitrates to trickle down through soil into groundwater resources. Tainted Tap: Nitrate Pollution, Factory Farms, and Drinking Water in Maryland and Beyond notes that a single poultry CAFO raising 82,000 laying hens can produce 2,800 tons of manure a year, more than three times the amount produced by the Maryland Zoo in …