Report finds MD's water enforcement lacking
Maryland may have some of the greenest environmental laws in the nation, but a Washington-based think tank suggests the Chesapeake Bay is not getting the full benefit of those because of weak enforcement.
In a report commissioned by the Abell Foundation, the Center for Progressive Reform says the Maryland Department of the Environment is "drastically underfunded," unable to inspect as frequently the growing number of businesses, sewage plants, farms and construction sites it must monitor for water pollution.
It calls on the legislature to open up the pursestrings to keep from strangling the watchdog - for the sake of the state's waters, and the health of the people who use them.
But the report also faults MDE for not doing more with what it has, arguing the agency should be levying stiffer penalties to deter polluters and trying harder to physically inspect more facilities, to keep them honest.
Plus, the report says the state could let citizens help by not blocking environmental groups from suing alleged polluters.
There's a story about it in The Baltimore Sun, which you can read here.
MDE officials acknowledge they're short of funds and staff, but maintain nonetheless that they're doing a better job enforcing the past few years. They say they see no need to hit polluters with bigger fines, that compliance is good and getting better. There's a backlog of cases to be brought by the attorney general's office, but it's smaller than it was - and it's the result of more aggressive enforcement, officials argue, not settling or dropping so many cases.
And they deny they're always against letting environmental groups haul businesses into court for alleged violations. They left the door open just last week, they point out, for citizens to join a federal lawsuit MDE filed against Mirant Mid-Atlantic over pollution from a coal-ash landfill the Atlanta-based power company has in Prince George's County.
The report's findings echo complaints the Waterkeeper Alliance have made recently about MDE's water pollution enforcement.
Citing MDE's fiscal constraints and other alleged shortcomings, the environmental group petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency late last year to strip the state of the authority to enforce the Clean Water Act.
An EPA spokesman said federal officials are studying the group's allegations, but have no response yet.