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 …
Virginia's General Assembly is more than halfway through its legislative session — and state lawmakers are considering several important bills that would address environmental justice, pipelines, climate change, and public health. If passed, these bills will establish lasting environmental, health, and climate change protections for Virginia and its communities. 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:
One of the most vexing environmental law issues of the last three decades is the scope of the term "waters of the United States" (WOTUS) in the Clean Water Act — and what marshes, lakes, and streams fall under its purview. A connected legal question stretching back even further is how much deference to give agencies in policymaking and legal interpretations.
These issues are present in both the Trump administration's final "Waters of the United States" rule, which narrowly defines waters subject to the act, and the Biden administration's likely attempt to expand that definition. The Trump administration's narrow approach dramatically reduces the number of waterways under federal protection. A broader definition would restore and possibly expand protections to better safeguard public and environmental health.
A new study on the economic analyses in the Trump rule (which I co-authored) concludes that its supporting economic analyses rely on questionable …
Earlier this month, Congress overwhelmingly passed America's Conservation Enhancement Act (ACE). The legislation's dozen-plus conservation initiatives include reauthorizations for important programs that help protect the Chesapeake Bay and wetlands across the country.
Among other provisions, the legislative package authorizes $92 million in annual funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Chesapeake Bay Program through 2025, a $7 million annual increase. The program provides funding for states, local governments, and other partners to take measures that improve Bay water quality, and it also helps coordinate restoration efforts in the watershed. While Congress has appropriated funds to the program every year since it was created in 1987, its authorization expired in 2005. This reauthorization and increase in funding are a good sign for the future of Bay cleanup efforts, provided, of course, that Congress follows through with appropriations at the authorized level.
ACE also established a …
In 1972, the U.S. Clean Water Act (CWA) created a permit system for point source discharges to navigable waters of the United States – rivers, lakes, and coastal waters – with the goal of restoring and protecting their water quality. Typically, these permits are issued by the U.S. EPA or through state agencies to dischargers of wastewater, e.g., from urban and industrial wastewater treatment plants and to other dischargers of potentially contaminated water that reach streams by a pipe or similar conveyance. The goal was to provide some degree of regulatory oversight over such discharges. In California, the State Water Resources Control Board implements the federal Clean Water Act using its authority under the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act (Water Code, §13000 et seq.). Under the CWA, neither EPA nor the states are required to …