The Maryland General Assembly today approved legislation strongly supported by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to increase inspection and enforcement activities related to facilities permitted to discharge pollution into the state’s waterways.
The legislation—HB649—aims to reverse the long-term trend of declining inspection and enforcement actions being undertaken by Maryland Department of the Environment. The bill will now be sent to Gov. Larry Hogan for approval or a veto.
Earlier this month, the Chesapeake Accountability Project, a group of environmental organizations that includes CBF, issued a report detailing the long-term trend. The report found that MDE took 67 percent fewer enforcement actions during the previous six years compared to agency actions taken from 2009 to 2015. The 75 enforcement actions taken by MDE in 2021 were less than half the average of 168 actions taken per year dating back to 2001.
The declining enforcement actions were revealed as reports are emerging of significant failures at industrial facilities and wastewater treatment plants. In Baltimore, the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant has been failing since at least last summer due to a lack of maintenance and ongoing operational issues. The plant’s failures were only revealed to the public after the nonprofit Blue Water Baltimore tested water near the plant’s discharge and found high bacteria levels. Similar issues were found at the Patapsco Wastewater Treatment Plant due to Blue Water Baltimore’s water testing. On Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the nonprofit ShoreRivers discovered oddly-colored discharge from the Valley Proteins facility, a chicken rendering plant operating on an expired discharge permit, that resulted in an MDE inspection and, eventually, state mandates to fix pollution violations at the plant.
The legislation approved today would require MDE to:
- Inspect facilities deemed in significant noncompliance with their discharge permits once per month.
- Starting in 2023, inspect facilities with administratively continued permits more than one year old, also known as zombie permits, every 90 days until a new permit is issued.
- Make public and notify Senators and Delegates about noncomplying permit holders in their districts.
The legislation also adds fines for facilities that fail to correct pollution issues after two months.
CBF is urging the governor and legislators to increase MDE's operational funding to hire additional inspectors. The Chesapeake Accountability Report found MDE’s pollution inspectors declined from a high of 62 inspectors in 2000 to 50 in 2019, despite more water pollution permits being approved in Maryland.
In response to the bill passing, CBF’s Maryland Executive Director Josh Kurtz issued the following statement:
“It’s necessary to reverse the long-term trend of decreasing oversight and enforcement on polluters, which is contributing to a lack of compliance with the law. This legislation will ensure MDE does a more rigorous job catching pollution problems at permitted facilities before the issues develop into a crisis. We must hold pollution violators accountable to the law and their permit limits to ensure the Chesapeake Bay cleanup stays on track in Maryland.”