Representatives from 11 groups, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Blue Water Baltimore and the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, sent a letter to Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles, urging him “to consider whether existing enforcement policies and resources are sufficient to protect our citizens.”I was expecting them to blame Gov. Hogan (R), who campaigned on a platform of reducing bureaucracy, but in fact, most of the decline occurred during the O'Malley (D) administration.
In the year from March 2015 through February 2016, state environmental regulators referred 222 cases to the Maryland attorney general for prosecution, according to data the Center for Progressive Reform said it obtained in a public information request. From March 2014 through February 2015, they had referred 272 cases, and in the year before that, 339 cases.
The letter said that air pollution referrals decreased about 50 percent, lead poisoning prevention referrals declined 46 percent, and clean water referrals dropped 27 percent.
The groups accused state environmental policing to be “quiescent” relative to national enforcement of clean air and water laws.
“To fully meet the state’s commitment to its neighbors with regard to the Chesapeake Bay, as well as its commitments to the citizens of Maryland to ensure that our air, water, and lands are clean and healthy, we need a full commitment to enforcing the law,” the letter said.
A state spokesman said officials are reviewing the letter.
Could it be that after years of enforcement, the number of violations has dropped to the point that they are that much harder to find and marginal enough that they are more difficult to prosecute?Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has emphasized a business-friendly, customer-service-oriented approach to environmental regulation in the past.
But the issue is not a political one, the groups said. “To be sure, enforcement trends were headed in the wrong direction in the final years of Governor [Martin] O’Malley’s administration,” they wrote. The numbers they cited cover the final 23 months of the O’Malley administration and the first 13 months of the Hogan administration.
However, actual numbers of actions, and revenues from fines on pollution were up, due to increased enforcement of lead standards.
State environmental regulators levied $3.7 million in fines and took about 7,700 enforcement actions in fiscal 2015, according to an annual enforcement report. The state reported $3.6 million in fines and 2,150 enforcement actions in fiscal 2014. The massive increase in enforcement actions came from a surge of about 5,000 actions regarding lead exposure in fiscal 2015.