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April 13, 2017 by Evan Isaacson

Baltimore's Experience May Yield Lessons for Senate as It Debates Integrated Planning Bill

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 of the city's many infrastructure projects to upgrade drinking water and wastewater facilities, improve the systems of pipes that deliver clean water to homes and, separately, sewage to their treatment plants, and begin to deal with the thousands of acres of pavement that channel filthy water into the city's harbor.

Managing our need for water is both expensive and complicated. If you consider the challenge involved in planning and prioritizing these multi-billion dollar projects, you begin to understand why something with a name as dull as the "integrated municipal planning framework" is becoming something of a hot topic in some circles. The challenges of worsening drought and flooding that climate change is forecasted to create for American cities in coming …

March 17, 2017 by Evan Isaacson
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Last year around this time, I happily deleted this headline, "A Dark Day for the Bay," which I was preparing to use for a blog post in the event that the U.S. Supreme Court decided to hear the appeal of the American Farm Bureau Federation and other plaintiffs in their challenge to the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort known as the Bay TMDL. Ultimately, the Court denied that appeal, leaving in place the decision of a federal appeals court that upheld the Bay TMDL and solidified the Bay restoration effort at a critical time – the midpoint assessment period. I once again considered dusting off this ominous headline last fall when Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) successfully added a provision known as a "rider" to a budget bill, which would have blocked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from imposing any "backstop actions" to ensure the TMDL …

Feb. 2, 2017 by Evan Isaacson
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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) being made toward the many water quality, ecologic, and wildlife outcomes established by states in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement. While glancing through several of the graphs in the Barometer report, I wondered: Which graphs would I use to convey a sense of progress? What would be my "chart of the year" for 2016?

For me, that chart-of-the-year honor has to go to a series I found …

Dec. 8, 2016 by Evan Isaacson
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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 court decision now more than a dozen years old.

Let's start with the good news, however minor it may be. The new stormwater rule that EPA released in November is primarily procedural in nature. The issue at hand is when the public should be able to provide input to EPA and the states regarding the issuance of permits to their towns and cities that regulate polluted …

Nov. 18, 2016 by Evan Isaacson
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Last week, the Center for Progressive Reform co-hosted a symposium with the University of Maryland School of Law entitled "Halftime for the Bay TMDL." The symposium was supposed to be about what states, cities, counties, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), industry, and citizens can do to accelerate progress in the second half of the 15-year Chesapeake Bay clean-up effort. However, participants decided that it was equally important to discuss the potentially alarming prospects facing future Bay progress when a new administration and Congress take control next year.

Given that the conference was held one day after the election, it is no surprise that the agenda was partially hijacked by the need to answer big questions about the very future of the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). Attendees readily identified some threats to the Bay TMDL, such as the pending congressional effort to …

Oct. 17, 2016 by Evan Isaacson
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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 restore their urban and suburban environments and address polluted runoff from impervious surfaces like roads and parking lots.

Several jurisdictions like Montgomery and Prince George's counties have a long history of innovative stormwater management work and submitted relatively strong plans. Other jurisdictions, however, did not produce plans that meet their legal obligations to identify enough stormwater projects to satisfy their permits. Some jurisdictions, like Frederick and Harford …

Aug. 10, 2016 by Evan Isaacson
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Two people died on July 30 after a 1,000-year storm brought devastating flooding to the lovely and historic Ellicott City, Maryland, just outside of Baltimore. The 6.5 inches of rain that fell over the course of a few hours damaged or destroyed more than 150 vehicles and scores of buildings, and forced the rescue of dozens of people. It also sent more than 5 million gallons of sewage per day from several different sites into the Patuxent River and out to the Chesapeake Bay.

It didn't take long for a public official to ask if this tragedy was caused by climate change. I'll leave that question alone and let the scientists who study this sort of thing determine which specific weather-related disasters are most likely to be linked to climate change. But I'll raise a different question more specifically tied to the Ellicott City flood …

July 29, 2016 by Evan Isaacson
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If a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound? More to the point, if law enforcement issues a civil or criminal fine or sentence without anyone knowing, does it have an effect?

Thinking back to my criminal law course, I recall such philosophical discussions over the various theories justifying criminal penalties, such as incapacitation of the perpetrator, justice for the victim, and restoration of damages. But perhaps the most important theoretical basis for punishment – and I would think this is certainly true for punishment of environmental violations – is deterrence.

Leaving the realm of theory and philosophy, some recent stories in the news had me thinking once again about the state of environmental enforcement and the lack of deterrence. As I see it, two things must occur for a penalty to properly deter future violations: (1) the penalty must be …

July 5, 2016 by Evan Isaacson
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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 mid-June, Shawn Garvin, the Mid-Atlantic regional administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), stood beside George Hawkins, CEO of DC Water, and other officials at the Blue Plains wastewater treatment plant to applaud the completion of the plant's upgrade with more than a billion of dollars' worth of advanced pollution control technology, making it the largest advanced wastewater treatment plant in the world. Garvin also referenced …

June 8, 2016 by Evan Isaacson
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Late last month, almost 250 water quality advocates and officials convened in Annapolis for what is likely one of the largest gatherings of Chesapeake Bay experts. The 2016 Choose Clean Water Coalition conference brought together experts from each of the seven Bay jurisdictions and the federal government to share their experiences and ideas and to hear from some of the officials in charge of the Bay restoration process. They included Maryland's Secretary of the Environment, the Director of the Chesapeake Bay Program, and Gina McCarthy, Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The event provided a great opportunity for all of us who care about the Bay and its watershed to get re-energized and educated about the latest projects, policies, and successes. But it was also a time for taking stock. Various papers, studies, and data releases in the last few months confirmed the narrative …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
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