Between now and Nov. 25, Maryland residents have an opportunity to provide comments to the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) concerning a permit that governs how more than 1,400 industrial facilities manage pollution from stormwater runoff that affects communities across the state, as well as local rivers and streams. A public hearing will be held on Sept. 28 at MDE’s offices in Baltimore and written public comments will be accepted until Nov. 25.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), Blue Water Baltimore, the Gunpowder Riverkeeper, as well as the Potomac Riverkeeper Network and Waterkeepers Chesapeake found the permit seriously flawed and filed suit against MDE in December of 2022. The Chesapeake Legal Alliance represents Blue Water Baltimore and the Gunpowder Riverkeeper. The Environmental Integrity Project is representing Potomac Riverkeeper Network and Waterkeepers Chesapeake.
The permit fails to take into account the increased intensity, frequency, and duration of rain events due to climate change; it fails to address environmental justice by conducting cumulative impacts analyses of facilities located in overburdened communities; it allows certain industrial facilities to gain exemption from permitting requirements without third party verification of whether pollutants on their sites will be exposed to stormwater; and it does not provide fence-line communities the opportunity to weigh in on the risks that they face.
“We appreciate MDE taking another look at this permit. The Moore Administration has acknowledged the challenge of climate change as well as the importance of environmental justice,” said CBF Maryland Executive Director Allison Colden. “This permit, as written, favors polluters over the communities they harm. We hope that citizens voice their concerns and that MDE will respond.”
“Industrial stormwater pollution threatens communities as well as water quality. This hearing gives Marylanders a second chance to ensure that environmental justice communities are protected from such pollution,” said Bob Dreher, Legal Director of the Potomac Riverkeeper Network
MDE’s data shows that stormwater running off industrial sites has extremely high levels of pollution, including nitrogen, lead, copper, and aluminum. The previous industrial stormwater permit failed to achieve the state’s primary objective to reduce pollution from stormwater.
“This permit single-handedly regulates pollution from nearly 300 facilities in the Baltimore region, where residents are consistently hardest hit by the compounding factors of climate change, systemic disinvestment, toxic contamination, and so much more," said Alice Volpitta, Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper with Blue Water Baltimore. "Now is the time for regulators to hear our voices, protect our waterways, and prioritize the people living on the frontlines of this issue every day."
“We have well over 100 industrial sites in the Gunpowder, Bush, Bird, and Middle River watersheds. All of these sites cumulatively impact downstream, underserved communities and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay,” said Gunpowder Riverkeeper Theaux Le Gardeur.
MDE reopened the permit for public comment on specific provisions after the environmental organizations pointed out that the MDE failed to allow public comment on those provisions before finalizing the permit.
“Increasing rainfall due to climate change is supercharging the pollution coming off of industrial sites, leading to serious health impacts on nearby communities that are often the most overburdened with pollution. With this hearing, Maryland has a new opportunity to create a permit that protects some of our most vulnerable community members,” said Robin Broder, Acting Executive Director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake.
While the strength of the permit is important, so is enforcement. The Chesapeake Accountability Project, through a public information request, found widespread noncompliance under the previous permit from 2017 to 2020. Only 24 percent of MDE inspections—475 of 1,979—found industrial facilities following permit requirements with about two-thirds being noncompliant. MDE only took six formal enforcement actions in response.
“Swift and efficient permit enforcement is key to ensuring compliance terms are met and state waters are protected, which is why enhanced enforcement is a top priority for the environmental groups involved in the suit. We hope MDE will renew its compliance commitments, provide additional resources for inspections, and prioritize sectors known to pose a high risk to water quality and public health,” said Sheronda Rose, CBF Litigation Staff Attorney.