Maryland Passes Three Climate Bills: One to Kill “Zombie Permits,” a Climate Justice Screening Bill, and the “Patuxent River Commission-Membership” Bill!
Maryland Passes Three Climate Bills: One to Kill “Zombie Permits,” a Climate Justice Screening Bill, and the “Patuxent River Commission-Membership” Bill
MARYLAND MARKS EARTH MONTH BY PASSING THREE CLIMATE BILLS!
In a victory for protecting clean water and addressing environmental injustices, the Maryland legislature passed three bills that significantly improve the monitoring and enforcement of pollution permits, require an evaluation of environmental injustices for new permits, and ensure community members have a seat on the Patuxent River Commission.
Said Betsy Nicholas, Executive Director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake. “The Clean Water Act, which turns 50 this year, is a powerful law, but only if states make the investments necessary to ensure equitable protections and enforcement. And when states are not doing their job…These three bills demonstrate the power of community advocates to push state agencies to do their jobs.”
Why does this matter to the rest of us non-residents of the Old Line state? These actions highlight the redress function written into the Clean Water Act. All U.S. states have a responsibility under the federal Clean Water Act protect public health and the environment by controlling what is discharged in our waterways. They also have an obligation under law, to ensure transparency and public participation in the regulation of polluting facilities. When states fail to act to enforce provisions of it and allow for bad actors to create climate harm to state waterways, the Clean Water Act gives citizens the right to push back and demand action.
MARYLAND MOVES TO KILL “ZOMBIE PERMITS”
Earlier this year, The Climate Daily reported on Zombie Permits plaguing Maryland waterways. Zombie permits are water pollution control permits that were issued by the Maryland Department of the Environment and have expired, but have been “administratively continued.” Through this maneuver, the resuscitated permit doesn’t require any updating to incorporate the most recent pollution-control technology — as required every five years by the federal Clean Water Act.
Based upon a 2021 EPA report, 202 of 466 Maryland water pollution control permits are “zombies.” “We shouldn’t have to wait until people get sick or for nonprofit organizations to report violations and issue reports on MDE’s weak inspection and enforcement record to get MDE to do its job,” said Delegate Sara Love.“Facilities with significant violations that are operating on discharge permits that expired over 15 years ago need to be a thing of the past.”
An example would be Valley Proteins, of Linkwood, MD, which operates on a zombie permit. According to MDE records, it intakes up to 4 million pounds of chicken entrails and feathers daily from poultry processing plants. It’s currently permitted to discharge up to 150,000 gallons of treated wastewater daily.
Why hasn’t action to kill zombie permits happened sooner? According to Senator Paul Pinsky (District 22), “Lack of adequate staffing has slowed permitting and enforcement processes, which has endangered the public.” A new bill is set to address that.
The Environment – Discharge Permits – Inspections and Administrative Continuations Bill requires the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to clear the backlog of “zombie permits”, and update them by 2026, and to inspect facilities deemed in significant noncompliance with their discharge permits once per month.
Why does this matter to all of us? Alice Volpitta, Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper at Blue Water Baltimore, said it best. “The proactive inspections required by this bill are good for Maryland residents, the environment, and the regulated permit holders.”
MARYLAND ALSO PASSES CLIMATE JUSTICE SCREENING BILL
The second significant bill passed by the Maryland Legislature regarding climate protections is the The Environment – Permit Applications – Environmental Justice Screening” Bill (SB818/HB1200). It was sponsored by Sen. Arthur Ellis and Del. Melissa Wells.
It requires an identification and disclosure of existing pollution sources when a permit is being requested for a new polluting facility, and that this information be provided to communities early in the permitting process.
Said Del. Melissa Wells, “For many communities, environmental injustice compounds a legacy of social, economic, and political disenfranchisement. This bill requiring environmental justice screening to identify potential injustices before a new polluting project is approved is a simple, but important step to bring justice to so many of our communities overburdened with pollution.”
According to provisions in the bill, the screening process can be used to identify needed projects that prioritize economic and labor needs of historically low-income and redlined communities.
Additionally, many communities face barriers in accessing information regarding proposed construction of new industrial facilities, in particular low-income communities of color. This lack of information has left many communities powerless to advocate for themselves. Too often, those groups learn about a proposed development too late to have meaningful input on the permitting process, to change the location, in order to prevent harm to their communities’ health.
Staci Hartwell, Chair for environmental and climate justice with the NAACP Maryland State Conference said,“Now, communities that have borne the harmful impact of too many industrial facilities polluting the air and water will have the information and data needed to protect the health of their residents.”
MARYLAND PASSES THE PATUXENT RIVER COMMISSION-MEMBERSHIP” BILL
The third, and perhaps sociologically most important bill to pass the Maryland legislature this week is called, “The Patuxent River Commission-Membership” Bill. It came about when Secretary of Planning Robert McCord went outside of his jurisdiction and did not reappoint several community advocates, including Patuxent Riverkeeper Fred Tutman, to the Patuxent River Commission.
The resultant public outcry was loud. Maryland legislators acted quickly to introduce and pass bipartisan legislation sponsored by Sen. Paul Pinsky (District 22) and Del. Mary Lehman (District 21) to make the Patuxent Riverkeeper a permanent seat and add additional citizen seats to the Patuxent River Commission.
Fred Tutman, the Patuxent Riverkeeper, whose exclusion from the board started it all, said, “The constructive outrage from the people all across Maryland helped pass this bill and has given us a renewed mandate in the fight to save the Patuxent River, plus the moral support and authority to persevere.”
And why does preserving the Patuxent Riverkeeper seat on the Patuxent River Commission matter to the rest of us? It’s an example of where any vital, public river forum needs to maintain transparency and openness to the community voices it serves.
The legislation did more than return the Patuxent Riverkeeper seat to the commission. It also added more citizen seats to the state’s only river commission. Its overwhelming passage in the Maryland General Assembly, vindicated the importance of community engagement in the issues that matter in our watershed.