Maryland has a long-held reputation as a regional and national leader in environmental protection. But in some areas, especially enforcement, that reputation warrants scrutiny, says a CPR briefing paper released today. For example, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) cannot by law assess fees for issuing and administering permits for municipalities for water pollution, despite the many resources required to regulate and monitor the pollution. The state’s penalties for violating the Clean Water Act have remained chronically below the level allowed under federal law. And state law does not require MDE to penalize polluters for the full amount of the economic gain they achieved by flouting the law, unlike laws in Pennsylvania and Virginia. Together, these shortcomings may effectively dilute the power of deterrent effect of environmental laws across the state. The end result: waters less protected from pollution.
Today CPR releases Back to Basics: An Agenda for the Maryland General Assembly to Protect the Environment, written by CPR President Rena Steinzor and me. The briefing paper recommends that the state’s legislature better protect the environment by providing MDE with the tools needed to operate its programs and to restore the full deterrent effect of its enforcement program. Our paper says the General Assembly should act to:
- Increase permit fees to accurately reflect the cost of developing permits, monitoring and regulating facilities with permits, and managing pollutant discharges.
- Ensure that the statutory penalty maximum for a violation of the Clean Water Act keeps pace with inflation and the federal maximum.
- Restore the full deterrent effect of a penalty by adopting a statutory mandate to recover any economic benefit from noncompliance that a violator receives.
- Establish a clear, mandatory minimum penalty requirement for violations of the environmental laws that protect the land, water, air, and other natural resources of Maryland.
For example, because current law doesn’t authorize MDE to charge fees for municipal permits, the state gives up hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, permit revenue that is critical at a time when MDE is expected to do more with less. In addition, the deterrent effect of MDE’s enforcement program could be significantly strengthened by increasing the maximum penalty amount or implementing a mandatory minimum penalty, as New Jersey and California do.
By addressing the basic needs of the MDE—resources and effectiveness—the General Assembly can ensure a healthy, clean, and beautiful Maryland for present and future generations.