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 discharges are capped over time and encourages reductions to happen where they can be achieved at the lowest cost. If done right, a trading program may provide an incentive for some to reduce pollution beyond what is required of them by law. 

Pollution trading has been credited with major achievements across the United States. But it is not a one-size-fits-all solution to environmental degradation. Much depends on the type of pollutants, how they are introduced into the environment, and where and how they cause harm. Trading has worked in the right circumstances. It is rightly credited with reducing the pollutants that cause acid rain, and it is seen as a useful tool in reducing climate-change-inducing greenhouse gases – in both cases because much of the pollution comes from power plants with smokestacks that can be monitored and controlled. But now Maryland is proposing to start a trading program with water pollution sources such as farm fields and parking ...

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 ...

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 ...

CPR Scholars to EPA, Army Corps: Scrapping the Clean Water Rule is Unlawful, Unwise

by Dave Owen | September 26, 2017
On September 25, a group of Member Scholars from the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) submitted comments on the Trump administration's proposed rollback of the "waters of the United States" rule (technically, the rollback rule has been issued by EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but its support within those agencies comes only from the Trump administration's political appointees). The proposed rule addresses the scope of federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act – which means, in non-legal terms, ...

Baltimore Sun Op-Ed: Preparing for Hurricanes Should Not Fall to Ratepayers

by Matt Shudtz | September 20, 2017
This op-ed originally ran in the Baltimore Sun. The full scope of the heartbreaking devastation wrought by hurricanes Harvey and Irma — the human, economic and environmental toll — may not be completely understood for years. As we do what we can to help the victims, it is also time to think about how we can prepare for the inevitable here in Baltimore. After all, Baltimore floods more than most other cities in the United States and gets little help ...

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 ...

Repeal First, Explain Later: The Trump Administration and the Clean Water Rule

by Dave Owen | June 28, 2017
Originally published on Environmental Law Prof Blog by CPR Member Scholar Dave Owen. EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers just released a proposal to repeal the Clean Water Rule and to return to previous regulations. The Clean Water Rule (also known as the WOTUS Rule) would have clarified the scope of federal regulatory jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. It was one of the Obama administration's signature environmental initiatives, and it was one of candidate and then President Trump's signature targets. So the ...

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 ...

Myths, Realities, and the Clean Water Rule Controversy

by Dave Owen | March 06, 2017
Originally published on Environmental Law Prof Blog by CPR Member Scholar Dave Owen. Last Tuesday, President Trump signed an executive order directing EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to begin work on a new rule defining the scope of federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. The rule, if and when it is finalized, would replace the "Clean Water Rule" released by EPA and the Corps during the summer of 2015. Much of the political rhetoric surrounding the Clean Water Rule has suggested ...

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 ...

Assessment Finds Wide Variety in Quality of County Stormwater Plans in Maryland

by Evan Isaacson | October 17, 2016
Today, the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) is releasing an assessment of the plans and progress of Baltimore City and the nine largest counties in Maryland to comply with their federal stormwater permits, a key component of the ongoing effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and restore it to health. The analysis looks carefully at the jurisdictions' past efforts and future plans, revealing a wide range in the apparent commitment and level of restoration activity as they work to ...

New EPA Assessment Shines a Light on a Cause of Chesapeake Bay Woes

by Evan Isaacson | September 20, 2016
The Chesapeake Bay watershed and its restoration framework under the Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) are so large and complex that it can be a real challenge to study, much less write about, the problem and the ongoing restoration efforts. This is why the recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assessment of the tiny Beck Creek watershed in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania is so valuable. The same activities that have fouled Beck Creek and the restoration practices that are working ...

Cleaner Waters for Washington at Long Last?

by Catherine O'Neill | August 08, 2016
The Clean Water Act instructs states and tribes to revisit their water quality standards every three years, updating them as necessary to reflect newer science and to ensure progress in cleaning up the nation's waters – to the point where people can safely catch and eat fish. Last Monday, Washington State's Department of Ecology unveiled its long-awaited update, revising standards that had been developed back in 1992. The state's rulemaking process has been marked by controversy and delay, which I ...

Let's Celebrate Some Progress on Infrastructure Investment

by Evan Isaacson | July 05, 2016
For decades, politicians, advocates, and the press have lamented America's aging, deteriorating, or even failing infrastructure and called for change – usually to little avail. Perhaps another strategy should be to celebrate success wherever we see it and spotlight achievements to demonstrate that we can change the situation if we choose key public investments over apathy and short-sighted budget cuts. Just a few weeks ago, residents and advocates in the Chesapeake Bay region heard one such infrastructure success story. In ...

Navigating the Clean Water Act

by Robert Glicksman | June 10, 2016
Originally published by the George Washington Law Review The Supreme Court held in U.S. Army Corps of Engineers v. Hawkes Co.[1] that a determination by the United States Army Corps of Engineers ("Corps") that the owners of land used for peat mining were obliged to apply to the Corps for a permit under the Clean Water Act ("CWA")[2] before dredging or filling the land was a judicially reviewable final agency action. Although this conclusion seems unremarkable, the case potentially packs ...

Farm Bill 2018: Down Payment on an Effective Conservation Title

Ristino | Jan 17, 2018 | Environmental Policy

A Final 2017 Dose of Op-Eds

Freeman | Dec 28, 2017 | Regulatory Policy

The Off-Switch Is Inside the Fenceline

Farber | Dec 27, 2017 | Energy

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