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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 …

May 7, 2021 by Daniel Farber
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This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

Chlorpyrifos is one of the most widely used pesticides in America, although it has been banned in the European Union. Last week, the Ninth Circuit took the extraordinary step of ordering the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) point-blank to ban or reduce traces of chlorpyrifos in food. A dissenter accused the majority of misreading the statute in question and abusing its discretion by limiting EPA's options so drastically and giving it only 60 days to act. Warning: The majority and dissenting opinions cover 116 pages, so I'll necessarily be leaving out a lot of details and nuances.

Who is right depends partly on how you read the statute and partly on whether EPA was acting in good faith. Judge Bybee thought that EPA had acted in good faith, while the majority clearly thought EPA had …

May 6, 2021 by Brian Gumm
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Season 5 of the Center for Progressive Reform's Connect the Dots podcast continues with Episode 2: Capture the Enemy. Keep reading for a summary and to listen to the episode.

Companies using fossil fuels like oil, natural gas, and coal are facing heavy pressure to reduce their carbon footprint. If they don't, they could get hit with financial penalties or be completely shut down. In response, these corporations have come up with a treatment of sorts — it's called carbon capture and sequestration, or CCS for short.

The idea is that the industry can continue operating as it always has, but as a caveat, it will install a system to strip carbon from emissions. The carbon will be funneled through pipelines deep into the ground, where it will be buried forever. As a result, plants can keep running, businesses rally on as usual, there's less pollution in the …

May 4, 2021 by James Goodwin
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Originally published by the Environmental Law Institute’s “The Environmental Forum” May-June 2021 issue. This is an excerpt.

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By the time the environmental justice movement began taking shape in the 1980s, communities of color had already been suffering from the disproportionate burdens of pollution for decades. Since then, evidence of racially discriminatory patterns in the distribution of environmental harms has only continued to mount.

Researchers from the universities of Michigan and Montana empirically documented in a pair of 2015 studies the phenomenon of “sacrifice zones,” finding that industrial facilities associated with high levels of pollution are disproportionately sited in low-income communities and communities of color.

A 2019 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science found that while White people in the United States are disproportionately responsible for particulate matter pollution — which is linked to heart disease, permanent lung damage, and premature death — Black …

May 4, 2021 by Karen Sokol
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This op-ed was originally published in The Hill.

A week after taking office, President Joe Biden issued an executive order “on tackling the climate crisis” that aims to face the challenge comprehensively and equitably. Biden has quickly appointed and seen confirmed a team of leaders who are committed to all aspects of this mission. Our country is finally on the cusp of meaningful climate action. The climate action train is so popular that even fossil fuel companies, which have historically sought to derail it, are now saying they’re on board

We should, of course, welcome all sincere collaborators; the fossil fuel industry is not among them.

Yes, major oil and gas companies are finally, if reluctantly, beginning to publicly acknowledge the climate crisis, and some even claim to “support” the Paris Agreement’s goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. 

These claims are a central part …

May 3, 2021 by David Flores
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As Maryland heads into the final stretch of a collective effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, it has inexplicably passed over its best opportunity in years to modernize regulation of industrial stormwater — rain and snow that collects toxic pollution as it runs off factories, warehouses, scrap metal dealers, and other industrial sites.

Earlier this year, Maryland released a proposed revision of its general water pollution permit, which limits the type and amount of pollutants that facilities can discharge into public waters and sets monitoring and reporting requirements to protect public and environmental health.

Unfortunately, the state missed an important opportunity to bring stormwater regulation from the last century into the present — but it’s not too late to change course.

The Chesapeake Accountability Project (CAP) — a coalition of clean water advocacy groups including the Center for Progressive Reform — and two dozen partner organizations submitted a comment …

April 29, 2021 by Alina Gonzalez
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In 2017, Puerto Rico was hit hard by two major hurricanes, Irma and Maria. First came Irma, a Category 5 storm that pummeled the island, leaving a trail of destruction. Less than two weeks later came Maria, another Category 5 storm that directly hit the island in what became the worst natural disaster in the U.S. territory's history. The storm moved directly across the island, knocking out electricity and inundating towns with floodwaters and mudslides.

Maria's immediate aftermath was brutal. It included cascading failures of critical infrastructure that threatened systems that people depend on to survive: energy, transportation, communications, water, and wastewater treatment. The storm caused $90 billion in damage to the island, and Puerto Ricans were forced to live without power for 328 days — the longest blackout in U.S. history. The storm also caused an estimated 3,000 deaths, according to an independent study …

April 29, 2021 by Daniel Farber
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This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

April 30 marks President Biden's first 100 days in office. He's appointed a great climate team and is negotiating an infrastructure bill that focuses on climate change. With luck, those actions will produce major environmental gains down the road. There are also some solid gains in the form of actions that have already come to fruition. Here's where things stand.

Executive orders. Former President Trump seemed to delight in issuing anti-environmental executive orders. All of those are gone now, replaced with Biden's environment-friendly substitute. In one important move, Biden restored former President Obama's estimate of the social cost of carbon, which Trump had slashed.

Foreign affairs. Here the big news is that Biden has taken the United States back into the Paris agreement and has submitted a commitment cut emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels …

April 28, 2021 by Minor Sinclair
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It’s heartening to see that not all of the noise generated by the 2020 presidential campaign has dissipated in these post-election times.

President Biden pledged last week to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2030 — making good on a big campaign promise and possibly nudging some of us out of the still-skeptical category.

When I think about climate, I think about equity. Low-income people spend more of their paychecks on energy and transportation costs. Those sweet rebates on electric vehicles? They don’t go to people who can’t afford a new car, much less an electric one. As CPR Member Scholar Maxine Burkett notes, environmental degradation creates “sacrifice zones” — and communities of color pay the price. We simply cannot address climate change without addressing racism, and environmental racism in particular.

When I think about climate, I also think about jobs. Jobs that don …

April 27, 2021 by James Goodwin
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President Joe Biden's April 28 speech to a joint session of Congress — his first major address since his inauguration — offers him a chance to outline and defend his policy priorities. He should use this opportunity to articulate a positive vision of regulation as an institution within our democracy and to champion the crucial role it plays in promoting the public interest.

Biden will likely focus much of his speech on his ambitious infrastructure plan, from which he can easily pivot to regulation. After all, robust regulations are essential to the success of the U.S. economy, no different from traditional "gray" infrastructure like roads, bridges, pipelines, and power lines.

Strong regulatory protections provide a foundation of trust, which is critical for keeping our economy humming. Imagine, for example, if the Biden administration's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued its long overdue emergency temporary standard to protect …

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