The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) is announcing its strong support of new legislation being considered in the Maryland General Assembly to address the long-term decline in state enforcement of water pollution discharge permits.
The Senate and House versions of the bill (SB492 and HB649) are scheduled for initial hearings this week.
Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) is responsible for inspecting facilities that are permitted to release a limited amount of pollutants into waterways or other parts of the environment. However, during the past 20 years the department has lost nearly 20 percent of its staff. In fiscal 2021, significant enforcement actions at facilities that affect water quality decreased to the lowest number in the past two decades, according to MDE enforcement data reviewed by the Center for Progressive Reform. Inspections of known polluting facilities have dropped significantly as well. And there’s a growing backlog of more than a hundred expired discharge permits that have been administratively continued and must be updated.
Several recent examples highlight the need for MDE to address these problems. In Baltimore, the state’s two largest wastewater plants were releasing partially treated sewage into local waterways, which MDE inspectors discovered after the nonprofit Blue Water Baltimore reported contaminated water near the plants to the agency. MDE also briefly shut down the Valley Proteins rendering plant on the Eastern Shore after the nonprofit ShoreRivers sent footage of oddly colored water flowing out of discharge pipes at the facility. In these cases, MDE later filed litigation against the operators of the facilities—a costly outcome that may have been prevented with regular inspections and enforcement activities.
The legislation being considered this year would help address these problems by:
- Limiting how long an expired permit can be administratively continued;
- Requiring MDE to more frequently inspect facilities with expired discharge permits and reported violations;
- And create additional fines for permit holders that fail to quickly address compliance issues.
CBF is also working to address MDE staffing issues by supporting funding for the agency through the state budget process.
CBF Maryland Senior Scientist Doug Myers issued the following statement:
“Maryland has laws to limit pollution, but they’re only effective if properly enforced. That's why we're urging General Assembly members to pass this bill to increase MDE’s ability to hold significant pollution violators accountable. During this period of declining oversight, we’re seeing large facilities that hold discharge permits failing to meet pollution limits, which threatens the ongoing Chesapeake Bay cleanup. Enforcing the law will ensure the worst violators are caught and deter others from trying to fly under the radar.”
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