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May 13, 2021 by Katlyn Schmitt

Baltimore Sun Op-Ed: Is the Maryland Department of the Environment Cleaning Up Its Act When It Comes to Enforcement?

This op-ed was originally published in the Baltimore Sun and was co-authored with Russ Stevenson of the Chesapeake Legal Alliance.

Dirty, polluted stormwater that runs off of industrial sites when it rains is a major cause of pollution to Maryland’s streams and rivers, and ultimately to the Chesapeake Bay. Maryland is home to thousands of such industrial sites, all of which are required by law to obtain a stormwater discharge permit from the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to prevent pollution and protect public and environmental health.

Unfortunately, many of these sites do not have a permit. For example, our research in one small area of Anne Arundel County found that only four out of 12 industrial sites possessed a current permit. Of the industrial sites that hold a permit, many are not in compliance with the permit requirements. Between 2017 and 2020, MDE conducted just under 2,000 inspections of permitted sites throughout Maryland and found that more than two-thirds (68%) were violating the terms of their permits. These industrial sites are commonly clustered in urban areas, creating pollution hot spots of runoff that can include heavy metals and other toxins. Such polluted waters threaten the health …

April 13, 2021 by Katlyn Schmitt
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At midnight on April 13, Maryland’s 2021 legislative session closed out with the passage of a law (House Bill 1069) that will provide meaningful drinking water protections for tenants who rely on well water. The measure, sponsored by Del. Vaughn Stewart (D-Montgomery County), passed with bipartisan support in the Maryland Senate but faced hurdles in the House due to a last-minute filibuster attempt.

Public drinking water is regularly monitored and tested to meet certain safety standards set out by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through the Safe Drinking Water Act. The safety of drinking water from a private well or smaller community system, on the other hand, is solely up to the owner of that well or system.

In CPR’s recent report, fellow Policy Analyst Darya Minovi and I found that Maryland lags far behind most states in terms of protections for well …

March 22, 2021 by Katlyn Schmitt, Darya Minovi
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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 …

March 1, 2021 by Katlyn Schmitt
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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:

  • Enforce …

Feb. 16, 2021 by David Flores, Katlyn Schmitt
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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 …

Feb. 15, 2021 by David Flores, Katlyn Schmitt
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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 …

Feb. 4, 2021 by Katlyn Schmitt
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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:

  • Turn the Commonwealth's stated environmental justice goals into a reality

    The Omnibus Environmental Justice Bill (House Bill 2074 and Senate Bill 1318) would direct Virginia's state and local agencies to adopt agency-specific environmental justice policies by October. Specifically, it would require agencies to evaluate the consequences of covered actions (such as approving a new natural gas pipeline or granting a permit to construct one) on low-income communities and communities of color, which face disproportionate harm from polluters.

    The bill would also require agencies to consider the cumulative impact of their actions on …

Jan. 27, 2021 by Katie Tracy, Katlyn Schmitt
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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:

  • Protect workers from disease

    Our nation's workers are going the extra mile to help us survive the pandemic. But Maryland isn't providing workers across the state with the protections they need to stay safe and healthy. Maryland lawmakers are considering legislation that would take a step in that direction. Del. Kriselda Valderrama (D) has introduced a bill (House Bill 124) that would require the state to adopt a temporary emergency standard to protect workers, including food and farm workers, from COVID-19. The bill would also …

Jan. 22, 2021 by Katlyn Schmitt
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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:

  • Ensure clean drinking water

    Everyone needs and deserves safe drinking water. Yet well owners in Maryland are largely left on their own to ensure their water is safe. Some 2 million Marylanders rely on well water as their primary water source, yet many well owners incorrectly believe their well water is safe to drink. Many don’t test their water annually or understand the importance of doing so.

    The Maryland Private Well Safety Program would address these problems. This would help well owners cover the costs of testing …

Dec. 10, 2020 by Katlyn Schmitt
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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 …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
May 13, 2021

Baltimore Sun Op-Ed: Is the Maryland Department of the Environment Cleaning Up Its Act When It Comes to Enforcement?

April 13, 2021

Maryland Adopts Law to Ensure Safe Drinking Water for Tenants

March 22, 2021

Maryland Court Orders State to Limit Ammonia Pollution from Industrial Poultry Operations

March 1, 2021

Achieving Meaningful Accountability for Polluters in Maryland

Feb. 16, 2021

Maryland Should Prevent Flood Loss on Public and Private Land

Feb. 15, 2021

It's Time to Update Maryland's Outdated Water Pollution Laws

Feb. 4, 2021

Old Dominion Weighs Bills to Curb Climate Change, Protect Health and Environment