Critical Actions to Save the Bay

Maryland Department of Natural Resources police on patrol.  Courtesy MDDNRMaryland Department of Natural Resources police on patrol. Courtesy MDDNR

ENFORCE LAWS

Exemplary environmental laws and prudent funding commitments make Maryland a leader in Bay cleanup. Strong and fair rules are needed to implement the Blueprint, but these laws are only effective if they are enforced. Without adequate staffing, funding, and rulemaking, agencies cannot keep up with the enforcement that is needed to ensure a fair and effective restoration effort.

CRITICAL ACTIONS:

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Bring program and permit reviews up to date. Exercise authority to enforce delegated environmental programs that are found failing to meet state requirements under the Forest Conservation Act, the Stormwater Management Act of 2007, the Critical Area Act, and erosion- and sediment-control laws and regulations.

Bring Program and Permit Reviews Up to Date

In order to properly oversee and enforce programs, the state or local agency responsible must know what is working and what is not working. That is why almost all environmental programs require annual or biennial "check-ups" in the form of reports, audits, or inspections. However, in too many cases, these programs have not been assessed for many years. That results in poor enforcement and inconsistent application of legal requirements. The state and local agencies responsible for implementing and enforcing these important environmental laws must bring all program reviews up to date and take the necessary action to make sure they are being complied with.

Similarly, permits governing pollution limits have discrete effective periods, but in many cases, are being administratively extended far beyond the period of time for which they were intended. These administrative extensions are being granted without even a cursory review of whether the waters receiving the pollution discharge are being negatively impacted or whether the pollution control technologies are woefully out-of-date.

These program and permit reviews need to be brought fully up to date, and where a program or permit is not preventing harm to Maryland's natural resources, stricter limits and appropriate enforcement must be imposed.

Exercise Authority

Maryland has long been recognized as a leader in environmental protection. The state deserves credit for enacting landmark legislation such as the Forest Conservation Act, the Stormwater Management Act of 2007, the Critical Area Act, and erosion and sediment control laws and regulations.

Unfortunately, these laws and regulations are not adequately implemented and enforced at the local or state level, according to recent surveys and Public Information Act requests. Pollution controls are not being required for construction sites and new developments, permits are being approved without the necessary environmental protection measures, polluters and poachers are disturbing natural resources without reprimand, and legally required annual reports are not being filed.

Some of these problems are due to the lack of adequate funding and staff at enforcement agencies. However, other failings could be due to lack of incentives or disincentives for compliance. For instance, if no local government inspector visits construction sites, or the government does not report violators, builders may feel no need to comply.

Stop the raids on land conservation funding and protect taxpayer dollars dedicated for clean water, including the Bay Restoration Fund, the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund, and Program Open Space.

The Funds

Over the years, Maryland has established funds that are dedicated to important, specific actions needed to clean up the Bay, such as the Bay Restoration Fund, the Chesapeake & Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund, and Program Open Space. When fully funded, these programs improve water quality dramatically in local waters and the Chesapeake Bay. For example, the Bay Restoration Fund has been used to upgrade 67 major wastewater treatment plants, resulting in the reduction of millions of pounds of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution.

These programs also boost the economy by making wise investments in Maryland's natural resources. Program Open Space has protected more than 247,000 acres of open space for state parks and natural resource areas, which in turn helps generate an estimated annual $650 million in economic benefits to local and state economies.

The Chesapeake & Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund has provided grants to farmers to plant cover crops and preserve land, grants to local governments to help install projects that clean up polluted runoff and beautify communities, and grants to develop innovative new technologies that could accelerate Bay restoration. Between fiscal years 2009 and 2012, the Trust Fund prevented 3.56 million pounds of nitrogen, 335,000 pounds of phosphorus, and 478 tons of sediment from polluting the Bay.

Protect Taxpayer Dollars

However, despite the proven benefits of these funds, the Maryland General Assembly has frequently shifted money from these funds to cover other gaps in the state budget. In recent years, money that has been diverted has been mostly compensated for in the form of bonds or other repayments, but other times the programs end up permanently shortchanged. For example, during the Ehrlich Administration, more than $468 million was diverted from the Program Open Space fund without ever being repaid.

Investing in clean water and Maryland's natural resources has shown time and time again to be a wise and fruitful investment, and our elected officials must provide full funding to these important programs.

Plug the gap in staffing and funding at the Department of the Environment and the Natural Resources Police to protect the public from pollution, poaching, and the destruction of natural resources.

The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) and the Natural Resources Police (NRP) enforce laws and regulations to conserve, protect, and enhance Maryland's natural resources.

MDE is responsible for ensuring safe and adequate drinking water, reducing public exposure to hazards, ensuring the safety of fish and shellfish harvested in Maryland, improving and protecting Maryland's water quality, ensuring safe air, and promoting land redevelopment and community revitalization.

The NRP patrols more than 470,000 acres of public lands, the Maryland portion of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, coastal bays off Ocean City and Assateague, and over 9,000 miles of freshwater streams. The NRP officers are tasked with preventing poaching of oysters, rockfish and other Bay marine life, among many other duties.

Fiscal analyses of these two major environmental protection agencies demonstrate a serious dearth of funding for enforcing these critical programs. In 2010, MDE determined that a widening gap between revenue and expenses at the agency could result in the loss of the equivalent of one environmental program per year. MDE already has cut costs significantly to offset reduced revenues. Similarly, in 2012, NRP reported to the General Assembly that at least 70 additional patrol officers were necessary to handle the current enforcement workload. That number is likely to increase to make up for retirements. At the same time, calls for service from the public and other police agencies have increased during recent years.

In order to enforce existing environmental laws and regulations effectively, these two state agencies need more funding. Currently, much-needed funding is being left on the table in the form of permitting fees that are not being collected and penalty fines that are too low to reflect the actual cost of remediation. The state must use legally available means to ensure that the cost of regulating commercial industries does not fall on the taxpaying public, and to ensure that the agencies tasked with protecting the public's natural resources are able to carry out their jobs.

Maryland's Oversight of Local Runoff Pollution Control Efforts Falls Short

runoff after a storm.   Photo credit: EPA

There are lots of things we can do to clean up the Bay, but the most basic step is to simply enforce environmental regulations already on the books.

The sad fact that this sometimes does not happen in Maryland with regard to urban and suburban runoff pollution—the only major source of pollution that is increasing in the Chesapeake Bay. Read More

Police Use High-Tech Cameras and Helicopters to Crack Down on Poachers

A MD Natural Resources Police officer (right) directs the State Police helicopter flight team toward a target. Photo credit: MD DNR

Maryland state police recently used a helicopter as a surveillance platform to catch and arrest four watermen for dredging oysters from a sanctuary on the Eastern Shore, in Somerset County. Read More

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