Saving the Bay from the Bench

Nanticoke_015_3 Excerpt of a Baltimore Sun Op/ed written by Kim Coble, Executive Director of CBF's Maryland Office.

When citizens want to change how the government protects the environment, they generally work toward changing legislation, regulations or government leaders. Rarely do people think about judges.

But they should.

Maryland's judges are thoughtful people whose primary experience is with criminal and business law. But they are often unaware or insufficiently educated about the environment and the laws meant to protect it. Too often, these judges do not have a fundamental understanding of the complexity and importance of our natural resources...Lacking a larger understanding, they can be overly sympathetic to claims that protecting our water, air and land should be subordinate to an individual's property rights...As a result, in recent years, we have seen cases in which the legislature had to go back and rewrite legislation to repair damage done to environmental laws through misinterpretation by the court system.

...The courts and other judicial institutions (as well as many local planning offices) have chosen to ignore the cumulative impact of the next shopping center, apartment complex or industrial park. Each case is reviewed independently, and thus the courts look only at the impact of just this "one" case: One parking lot. One gazebo. One bed of underwater grasses destroyed. One wetland lost.

It's an argument developers routinely deliver, with amazing success. But the cumulative effects of these "ones" is death by a thousand cuts for our environment, our rivers and streams, and our bay.

...Sadly, the cost of mounting a legal challenge to each case is beyond the financial ability of most citizens. And special-interest organizations, willing to act on behalf of concerned individuals, are rarely even allowed to appear because of an overly narrow interpretation of who has "standing" - that is, who has the right to appear before the board or court.

...Judges who respect our natural resources and the common good, who have a demonstrated record of protecting the public interest, can help preserve and restore the land, air and water that belong to all citizens.

Maryland has good environmental laws. They could be stronger, but even the strongest and most well-crafted laws are only as good as those who enforce them.

Read the complete Op/Ed here...and recommend it when you're done.

Kim Ethridge

Issues in this Post

Land Use   Community   Conservation   Litigate   Politics   Land Use   Smart Growth  

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