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Sept. 30, 2021 by Clarissa Libertelli

When It Rains, It Pours: Maryland Has a Growing Climate Justice Problem in Stormwater

Hurricane season hit Maryland hard this year, and even as it comes to a close, heavy rains continue to cause highway shutdowns and spread toxic floodwater. With the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) currently updating its rules and permits regarding stormwater, Marylanders have an opportunity to protect their communities against one of the most pernicious problems climate change poses for the region. 

Stormwater pollution occurs when heavy rain or snow is not absorbed by the ground due to oversaturated soil or impervious surfaces. The runoff sometimes reaches dangerous volumes, turning roadways into rivers and causing flash floods.

It also pollutes our environment: When runoff flows over rooftops, streets, and storm sewers, it collects trash, chemicals, bacteria, sediment, and other toxic and harmful substances that are carried into our waterways. Along the way, the polluted water passes through communities, evaporating and coating the surrounding environment with toxins that find their way into our homes and our bodies. 

In Maryland, stormwater is a source of sediment and other pollutants in the Potomac River and the streams and rivers that feed into the delicate Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. 

Marginalized Communities at High Risk

As with most environmental hazards, low-income communities and communities of …

Sept. 21, 2021 by Katlyn Schmitt, Natalia Cabrera
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This post was originally published by the Chesapeake Accountability Project. Reprinted with permission.

Maryland is home to more than 1,000 industrial facilities, including landfills, auto salvage yards, hazardous waste treatment, storage sites, and various types of manufacturing and processing plants. When it rains or snows, toxic pollution often runs off these facilities and enters nearby waterways and groundwater resources, negatively impacting aquatic life, nearby communities, and drinking water sources.

The problem — known as industrial stormwater pollution — is dire in Maryland. More industrial facilities are being built in the state, and precipitation intensity is increasing more quickly in the Chesapeake Bay region than elsewhere in the United States, threatening public and environmental health. Low-income people and communities of color are at heightened risk.

The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) requires industrial facilities not covered by individual permits to obtain a general permit for industrial stormwater. This …

May 13, 2021 by Katlyn Schmitt
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This op-ed was originally published in the Baltimore Sun and was co-authored with Russ Stevenson of the Chesapeake Legal Alliance.

Dirty, polluted stormwater that runs off of industrial sites when it rains is a major cause of pollution to Maryland’s streams and rivers, and ultimately to the Chesapeake Bay. Maryland is home to thousands of such industrial sites, all of which are required by law to obtain a stormwater discharge permit from the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to prevent pollution and protect public and environmental health.

Unfortunately, many of these sites do not have a permit. For example, our research in one small area of Anne Arundel County found that only four out of 12 industrial sites possessed a current permit. Of the industrial sites that hold a permit, many are not in compliance with the permit requirements. Between 2017 and 2020, MDE conducted …

May 3, 2021 by David Flores
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As Maryland heads into the final stretch of a collective effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, it has inexplicably passed over its best opportunity in years to modernize regulation of industrial stormwater — rain and snow that collects toxic pollution as it runs off factories, warehouses, scrap metal dealers, and other industrial sites.

Earlier this year, Maryland released a proposed revision of its general water pollution permit, which limits the type and amount of pollutants that facilities can discharge into public waters and sets monitoring and reporting requirements to protect public and environmental health.

Unfortunately, the state missed an important opportunity to bring stormwater regulation from the last century into the present — but it’s not too late to change course.

The Chesapeake Accountability Project (CAP) — a coalition of clean water advocacy groups including the Center for Progressive Reform — and two dozen partner organizations submitted a comment …

April 20, 2021 by Darya Minovi
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Since President Joe Biden assumed office, environmental justice has been at the front and center of his administration. One key initiative: developing better mapping tools to identify communities that may bear a disproportionate burden of toxic pollution and climate change impacts. Biden’s environmental justice (EJ) plan emphasizes the value of these tools and the need to improve them.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) current tool — known as EJSCREEN — dates to 1994, when President Bill Clinton issued an executive order instructing federal agencies to collect, maintain, and analyze information on environmental and human health risks borne by low-income communities and people of color.

The EPA published EJSCREEN in 2015. It integrates demographic data (such as percent low-income, under the age five, over age 65, etc.) and environmental pollution measures at the block group or census tract level nationwide. The mapped data provide a visual …

April 13, 2021 by Katlyn Schmitt
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At midnight on April 13, Maryland’s 2021 legislative session closed out with the passage of a law (House Bill 1069) that will provide meaningful drinking water protections for tenants who rely on well water. The measure, sponsored by Del. Vaughn Stewart (D-Montgomery County), passed with bipartisan support in the Maryland Senate but faced hurdles in the House due to a last-minute filibuster attempt.

Public drinking water is regularly monitored and tested to meet certain safety standards set out by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through the Safe Drinking Water Act. The safety of drinking water from a private well or smaller community system, on the other hand, is solely up to the owner of that well or system.

In CPR’s recent report, fellow Policy Analyst Darya Minovi and I found that Maryland lags far behind most states in terms of protections for well …

March 22, 2021 by Katlyn Schmitt, Darya Minovi
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Last week, a Maryland circuit court ruled that the state must regulate and limit ammonia pollution from industrial poultry operations. This landmark decision takes an important step toward protecting the environment and public health in the Old Line State and could spur similar action in other states.

It is certainly needed in Maryland. The state's Lower Eastern Shore is home to a large number of industrial poultry operations; three Lower Eastern Shore counties house close to 44 million chickens at any given time — roughly 241 times greater than the number of people in the region.

Every year, these operations release millions of pounds of ammonia — a form of nitrogen — into the environment, polluting our land, water, and air. Ammonia is a colorless compound formed when nitrogen in chicken manure breaks down. It enters the air as a gas and can land on the ground, polluting groundwater and …

March 1, 2021 by Katlyn Schmitt
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Businesses that violate environmental laws and permits damage our air, land, and water, sometimes irreparably. Yet too often, these polluters aren't held accountable for harming the environment and public health. In Maryland, state officials don't respond to all violations, and, when they do, they aren't always successful. Even when they are successful, fines and other penalties don't necessarily result in behavior change. As a result, Maryland polluters are largely off the hook for the "externalities" of doing business.

To deter pollution, we need true accountability. We must ensure polluters pay for all harm done, whether to the environment, humans, and other species and habitats. Unfortunately, Maryland, like most other states, is a long way from achieving this goal. At CPR, we're tracking bills in the Maryland legislature that, if passed, would set the state on a path to greater compliance with environmental laws. These bills would:

  • Enforce …

Feb. 25, 2021 by Allison Stevens
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Seven years ago, public officials in cash-strapped Flint, Michigan, cut city costs by tapping the Flint River as a source of public drinking water.

So began the most egregious example of environmental injustice in recent U.S. history, according to Paul Mohai, a founder of the movement for environmental justice and a professor at the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability.

When they made the switch, city officials didn’t properly treat the new water, which allowed lead from corroded pipes, bacteria, and other contaminants to leach into the public drinking water supply. Flint residents, who are disproportionately low-income and Black, immediately raised alarms about the fetid, brown water flowing out of their faucets and cited health problems, such as hair loss and rashes.

But the city didn’t officially acknowledge the problem or begin to take decisive action until a year and a half …

Feb. 16, 2021 by David Flores, Katlyn Schmitt
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When it comes to addressing climate-related flooding, Maryland has made progress.

In 2014, it created a "Coast Smart Council" at the state's Department of Natural Resources. Councilmembers, representing government, academia, business, advocacy, and other sectors, work together to develop science-backed resources and rules that govern development of state-funded projects in coastal and flood-prone areas.

Meanwhile, state agencies and local jurisdictions work under the council's auspices and with the benefit of resources. such as local government studies and plans to address climate-related flooding. They also have a new interactive mapping tool — the Climate Ready Action Boundary — to help local governments and the public explore flood-prone boundaries in Maryland. Those who use the tool can make informed decisions about development in areas vulnerable to flooding or sea level rise. Any state development built within the flood-prone boundary must be designed with flood-resilient features.

But these actions don't come close …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
Sept. 30, 2021

When It Rains, It Pours: Maryland Has a Growing Climate Justice Problem in Stormwater

Sept. 21, 2021

'The Lion Is Missing Its Teeth': Maryland Must Crack Down on Industrial Polluters

May 13, 2021

Baltimore Sun Op-Ed: Is the Maryland Department of the Environment Cleaning Up Its Act When It Comes to Enforcement?

May 3, 2021

Maryland Must Take Stronger Steps to Regulate Toxic Stormwater from Industrial Sites to Protect Marylanders and their Waterways

April 20, 2021

The Promise of Environmental Justice Screening Tools in Maryland and Beyond

April 13, 2021

Maryland Adopts Law to Ensure Safe Drinking Water for Tenants

March 22, 2021

Maryland Court Orders State to Limit Ammonia Pollution from Industrial Poultry Operations