Virginia is home to thousands of unregulated and aging aboveground hazardous chemical storage tanks, which, when exposed to storms or floods, may be at greater risk of failing or spills. This risk — and the threat it poses to our health and safety — is rising as our climate changes.
Since these tanks are not regulated by the state or federal government, we know very little about their number, condition, age, or contents. If storage tanks are improperly constructed or maintained, they are more likely to fail under stress, and could release any number of toxic chemicals into nearby communities.
In addition to threatening community health and safety, the spills may also exacerbate existing disparities. In Virginia, industrial facilities vulnerable to flooding are disproportionately concentrated in socially vulnerable areas, according to a 2019 report by our colleague, David Flores.
Virginia is no stranger to failing tanks. In 2008, an Allied Terminals tank in Chesapeake, Va., collapsed, seriously injuring two workers and releasing 200,000 gallons of liquid ammonium nitrate fertilizer, which upon contact or inhalation can cause irritation to skin, eyes, and the respiratory tract. Some of it also entered the Elizabeth River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay.
The U.S …
This is the first of of a two-part post. Part II is available here.
Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that the regulations defining “waters of the United States” under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (better known as the Clean Water Act) are once again going to change.
The importance of that announcement is best demonstrated through a quick recap of the chaos that has dominated this element of Clean Water Act jurisdiction. In the 1980s, the EPA and Army Corps finally agreed on a regulatory definition of “waters of the United States,” a phrase that Congress had used in its 1972 overhaul of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to define “navigable waters.” The phrase is also one of the key jurisdictional terms defining the waters to which the restructured law applies.
“Waters of …
This is the second of of a two-part post. Part I is available here.
In the first part of this post, I briefly touched on the chaotic history of the EPA and Army Corps' definition and regulation of "waters of the United States" under the Clean Water Act. I also pointed out that this definition and its varying interpretations across courts and administrations can have significant impacts on water pollution prevention and the protection of our nation's waterways. With the Biden administration tackling a redo of the "waters of the United States" rule, court challenges are sure to follow. In this post, I'll explore three approaches to the rule that might help it survive judicial review.
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 …
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.
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 …
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 …
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:
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 …
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 …