Late last month, the Center for Progressive Reform revealed that the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) waives pollution permit application fees for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in the state, and that the agency is far behind in processing such applications. Now we're able to put a number on MDE's decision: MDE is waiving $400,000 in application fees this year alone. And what might it do with that money it's choosing to leave on the table for some reason? It could speed up its delayed permitting process, for one thing.
The CPR report also found that MDE has not registered nearly 30 percent of these farms since the program began three years ago — in great measure because of the backlog in processing permits. Those permits are the best way to limit pollution from large farms, an effort that is absolutely critical to Maryland's effort to comply with the Chesapeake Bay's "pollution diet," or TMDL.
The CAFO program was designed to be self-supporting. The idea was that the agency would collect modest fees from polluters (ranging from $120 to $1,200, depending on their size) and use that money to pay for the necessary permit writers and inspectors. By waiving the fees, MDE has shifted the responsibility of funding its program away from the polluter and instead relies on taxpayer funds. So in addition to paying a fee for their driver's licenses, car registrations, and fishing permits in the Bay, Free State taxpayers also get to pick up the tab for pollution permits for large industrial chicken operations.
This morning, CPR President Rena Steinzor and I sent Robert Summers, Secretary of MDE, a letter urging MDE to stop waiving fees. (Read the full text of the letter here).
“We are convinced that if you had access to this money, you could improve the pace of permitting significantly, enabling the state to get a handle on the massive quantities of chicken manure that contribute significantly to the ill health of the Chesapeake Bay,” we write. “We hope to persuade you to begin collecting fees from CAFOs immediately.”
Significantly, Maryland law does not seem to afford MDE much discretion to waive fees, requiring MDE to “set a reasonable application fee” for discharge permits. Yet the agency has waived all permit fees since the program began three years ago and its website announces that they’ll be waived “until further notice” (at § V).
No other polluting sector is afforded this kind of special treatment. MDE should immediately begin collecting fees from large animal farms.