EPA Isn't the Only Place Where Enforcement Is Being Put on Ice

by Evan Isaacson | March 01, 2018

Recently, the Environmental Integrity Project released a report highlighting the freeze that Administrator Scott Pruitt has placed on the enforcement of the nation's environmental laws. The headline figures are stunning: "Civil Cases for Pollution Violations Decline by 44 Percent and Penalties Down by 49 Percent." And these numbers may understate the situation, as former EPA officials have noted that some of the cases and penalties that the agency has been touting were brought by the previous administration, not Pruitt's EPA. 

While the data are alarming, I suspect few people familiar with Pruitt's track record or the Trump administration's talking points would be surprised to discover that the EPA is scaling back the number of legal actions it takes against violators. What may be more surprising to environmental advocates, however, is just how far environmental enforcement has dropped off at the state level, including in wealthier and "bluer" states with long track records of environmental protection. What happens to state-based enforcement is extraordinarily important as it makes up the vast majority of all legal actions to protect the environment under state and federal laws – far more than EPA, other federal agencies, and actions taken by citizens and environmental groups, combined. 

By way of example, I suspect many Marylanders would be shocked and disappointed to discover the current state of affairs at the state's Department of the Environment. The department recently released its annual "Enforcement ...

If Chesapeake Bay Jurisdictions Are Serious About Restoration, They Must Take Climate Change into Account

by David Flores | February 28, 2018
At a workshop on Friday, March 2, representatives of the Chesapeake Bay jurisdictions will meet in Baltimore to make important final decisions about how to address pollution – previously accounted for – from the Conowingo Dam and climate change. Decisions these representatives make about how to address pollution loads through the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) agreement will shape how and whether Bay jurisdictions are able to meet their Bay restoration goals during the crucial third and final phase ...

Why the Upcoming Release of EPA 'Expectations' for the Bay Plan Is Worth Watching

by Evan Isaacson | February 19, 2018
Anyone who's ever been to an organizational retreat can tell you that the worst fate any plan can suffer is to sit on a shelf, unused and collecting dust. The Chesapeake Bay restoration effort is one of the most complex and sophisticated environmental restoration plans ever created. But despite all the resources and energy that have been brought to bear under the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) initiative, the tie that binds it all together is simply the ...

The Environmental Injustice of Declining Budgets for Water Infrastructure

by Evan Isaacson | February 15, 2018
This year more than most, it bears repeating that a budget is a moral document, or at least that it has moral implications. It's particularly important to remember not just because President Trump's budget is so appallingly skewed in favor of military spending – this looks to be one pricey parade – but also because of the administration's puzzling infrastructure proposal.  It is no surprise that the Trump administration would craft an infrastructure plan heavily tilted toward the shiny objects ...

New Report: Three Fundamental Flaws in Maryland's Water Pollution Trading Regulations

by Evan Isaacson | December 18, 2017
On December 8, the Maryland Department of the Environment published its long-awaited nutrient trading regulations, capping more than two years of effort to develop a comprehensive environmental market intended to reduce the amount of nutrient and sediment pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.  A trading market would allow people, companies, and governments required by law to reduce the amount of pollution they discharge to purchase "credits" for pollution reduction efforts undertaken by someone else. In theory, water pollution trading ensures overall ...

Bay Journal Op-Ed: Bay Jurisdictions' No-action Climate Policy Puts Restoration in Peril

by Rena Steinzor | December 14, 2017
This op-ed originally ran in the Bay Journal. Reprinted with permission. Despite research demonstrating that climate change is adding millions of pounds of nutrient pollution to the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and his Bay states colleagues appear to be taking a page from the Trump playbook: Ignore this inconvenient truth. Doubts about whether climate change is caused by humans and threatens the planet are rapidly going the way of urban legend. Just ask any resident of Puerto Rico, the ...

Clean Water Laws Need to Catch Up with Science

by Evan Isaacson | November 29, 2017
The field of environmental law often involves tangential explorations of scientific concepts. Lately, one scientific term – hydrologic connectivity – seems to keep finding its way into much of my work. As for many others, this principle of hydrology became familiar to me thanks to its place at the center of one of the biggest fights in the history of environmental law, spilling onto the front pages and into the public consciousness.  Over the last several decades, a pair of ...

How Tax 'Reform' Impacts the Bay -- and Everything Else

by Evan Isaacson | November 17, 2017
Everyone should be paying attention to the tax "reform" bills making their way through Congress. Whether you are a concerned citizen, a volunteer activist, or a career advocate, chances are the tax legislation will do much more than increase or lower your tax bill. Much of the mainstream media and financial press, along with some public finance scholars and think tanks, are doing a thorough job of explaining what the tax bills will mean for the rich and the middle ...

New Report: Toxic Industrial Stormwater Widespread, Maryland Enforcement Seldom Seen

by David Flores | November 16, 2017
Those who take public safeguards seriously are well aware of the potential consequences that arise from the dangerous combination of poorly written pollution permits and lax – even absent – enforcement. From construction sites with failing erosion and sediment controls to ammonia and bacteria-spewing concentrated animal feeding operations, our waterways, their users, and vulnerable populations in the pathway of pollution suffer the consequences. Starting today, we add industrial stormwater to the ignoble list of poorly regulated sources of environmental pollution ...

Summer: The Season of Sickness for America's Waters

by Evan Isaacson | August 16, 2017
It's that time of year again. No, I don't mean time for back-to-school sales, last-ditch beach getaways, or Shark Week re-runs. Instead, I'm referring to the time of year when we're once again reminded just how sick our waterways are. Every year around this time, we read about massive dead zones and toxic algal blooms infecting large swaths of our nation's inland and coastal waters. The combination of warming water temperatures and fertilizer runoff during the growing season leads to ...

The Unclean Water Rule

by Evan Isaacson | July 13, 2017
This post builds from an interview with the author for WYPR's The Environment in Focus with Tom Pelton, a portion of which aired on Wednesday, July 12, 2017. One question I've been asked a number of times over the last several years is, "What does the Clean Water Rule mean for the Chesapeake Bay?" With EPA's recent proposal to repeal the rule, I'm once again hearing questions and speculation about what this repeal will mean for the Bay watershed. I ...

Partner Spotlight: A Conversation with Center for Progressive Reform's Evan Isaacson

by Kerry Darragh | June 27, 2017
This post originally appeared on the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition's website.  All month long, MCAC has been highlighting the Bay cleanup plan, also known as the Bay TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load), in order to keep track of the progress that is, or isn't, happening within the Bay watershed to reduce pollution. We recently chatted with Evan Isaacson, policy analyst at the Center for Progressive Reform, about tracking the progress of the Bay TMDL, what more states should be doing ...

Baltimore's Experience May Yield Lessons for Senate as It Debates Integrated Planning Bill

by Evan Isaacson | April 13, 2017
The City of Baltimore is wrapping up an $800 million upgrade of its largest sewage treatment plant. At the same time, the city is starting a $160 million project to retrofit a drinking water reservoir; is in the midst of a $400 million project to realign a major section of its sewer system; and is spending several million on projects throughout the city to manage polluted runoff from its streets and other paved surfaces. And these are just a few ...

A Dark Day for the Bay

by Evan Isaacson | March 17, 2017
Last year around this time, I happily deleted this headline, "A Dark Day for the Bay," which I was preparing to use for a blog post in the event that the U.S. Supreme Court decided to hear the appeal of the American Farm Bureau Federation and other plaintiffs in their challenge to the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort known as the Bay TMDL. Ultimately, the Court denied that appeal, leaving in place the decision of a federal appeals court that upheld ...

Baltimore Sun op-ed: Bay Cleanup Must Factor in Climate Change

by David Flores | February 28, 2017
This op-ed originally ran in the Baltimore Sun. Last summer, when floodwaters nearly wiped out Old Ellicott City, many people looked at the damage as bad luck caused by a 500-year storm. The truth is that such storms are no longer rare events. The Northeast United States has experienced a staggering 70 percent increase in intense rainstorms thanks to climate change. Unfortunately, efforts in the Chesapeake Bay region to adapt policies to address these threats are lagging far behind, and ...

Some Good News: Recent Indicators Show More Progress in the Chesapeake Bay

by Evan Isaacson | February 02, 2017
This week, the Chesapeake Bay Program released its annual Bay Barometer report. Along with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's annual State of the Bay and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science's Chesapeake Bay Report Card, the Bay Program's report closes out the assessments of the Bay for 2016 (for what it's worth, CPR Member Scholar Rena Steinzor and I released our own assessment last year). The Bay Barometer is chock full of charts describing the progress (and lack thereof) ...

Pair of EPA Actions Show Long Road Ahead for Urban Water Quality, Climate Resilience

by Evan Isaacson | December 08, 2016
Over the last couple of months, a pair of actions taken by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) demonstrate the glacial pace of federal stormwater management policy under the Clean Water Act. In October, EPA rejected a series of petitions by a group of environmental organizations to expand regulatory protections for certain urban waterways. Then last month, EPA issued a new national rule clarifying existing urban water quality regulations, but only because it was forced to respond to a federal ...

Long-Term Forecast for Bay Restoration: Cloudy with a Chance of Storms

by Evan Isaacson | November 18, 2016
Last week, the Center for Progressive Reform co-hosted a symposium with the University of Maryland School of Law entitled "Halftime for the Bay TMDL." The symposium was supposed to be about what states, cities, counties, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), industry, and citizens can do to accelerate progress in the second half of the 15-year Chesapeake Bay clean-up effort. However, participants decided that it was equally important to discuss the potentially alarming prospects facing future Bay progress when a ...

Chesapeake Bay

The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in North America, home to more than 3,600 species of plants and animals. The Chesapeake Bay watershed—the land that drains into the Bay—encompasses parts of six states and Washington, D.C. This national treasure has been deteriorating since the 1930s. The Obama Administration made important progress, however, pressing states to reduce pollution flowing into the Bay.. 

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