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 nearby waterways.
Exposure to airborne ammonia contributes to poor health in nearby communities. Ammonia is water soluble and, when inhaled, quickly dissolves in the upper respiratory tract, irritating the eyes, nose, and throat. It also has a strong, unpleasant odor. In residential communities near industrial livestock operations, airborne ammonia concentrations are positively correlated …
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 …
As a coastal state, Maryland is especially vulnerable to climate and ocean change — but important environmental protections are woefully out of date, endangering Marylanders' health, safety, economic welfare, and natural resources.
Maryland could take a step to rectify that this year. State lawmakers are advancing important legislation that would bring outdated water pollution rules up to speed and protect Marylanders and the environment.
Senate Bill 227 would require stormwater design standards and permits to reflect current rainfall patterns and put the state on a trajectory to assess and regularly update them in the future. We need appropriately designed stormwater practices to capture and treat greater rainfall volumes to reduce pollutants, like nitrogen and phosphorus, that contaminate water when it rains. And we need the standards to mitigate flooding and other physical impacts.
Hurricanes are increasing in frequency, size, strength, and rainfall volume, and they're following increasingly northward …