ANNAPOLIS – “The 2022 Maryland Legislative Session, which adjourned on April 11, was a huge success for cleaner water and healthier rivers,” a statement from ShoreRivers said last week. “In collaboration with the broader environmental community, ShoreRivers weighed in on over 30 bills. In particular, the bill on ‘zombie’ discharge permits (HB649) will result in significant changes to the way the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) monitors facilities for their discharge into waterways. The passing of this legislation came after a multiyear effort by ShoreRivers’ Riverkeepers and a broader coalition of environmental organizations advocating that MDE end the practice of administratively continuing expired discharge permits.”
The bill comes on the heels of the discovery of significant, ongoing pollution violations by the Valley Proteins rendering facility in Linkwood. ShoreRivers provided the aerial images that spurred MDE into action.
"For years we've been dealing with significant pollution from the oldest ‘zombie’ permit in the state — Valley Proteins — which has also been in significant violation of a discharge permit that expired over 15 years ago. The state's lack of oversight and control of the situation represents a regulatory failure," said ShoreRivers Director of Riverkeeper Programs Matt Pluta. “This could have been prevented if MDE were operating with the resources and framework now required through this legislation.”
There are currently 30 facilities on the Eastern Shore operating on “zombie” permits, which means they are using outdated technology and potentially polluting waterways, the statement said. This new law will result in required monthly randomized inspections for facilities in significant noncompliance with their water quality permits and bring facilities failing to report required pollution monitoring data into compliance.
Additionally, the bill requires MDE to significantly increase staffing in order to address the backlog of administratively continued discharge permits by 2026. The bill passed with bipartisan support; Senator Paul Pinsky and Delegate Sara Love were the lead sponsors.
“The legislative and political strategy led by partners at ShoreRivers, Chesapeake Legal Alliance, Waterkeepers Chesapeake, and Chesapeake Bay Foundation helped pass HB649 at a monumental time as the nation celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act this year,” Pluta said. “The discharge permits addressed in this bill are governed under the Act’s National Pollution Discharge Elimination System program, which is one of our strongest tools for controlling pollution from facilities discharging to local waterways.”
“Our work during session gives us the ability to create system-wide and meaningful change to better protect our local rivers against major issues that impact water quality. Despite another challenging session due to COVID, the environmental community has some real wins to celebrate this year,” ShoreRivers Miles-Wye Riverkeeper Elle Bassett said.
ShoreRivers participates in a state-wide coalition of environmental organizations advocating at the General Assembly, called the Citizens Campaign for the Environment. This year, the group prioritized three bills: the elimination of PFAS chemicals, a package of climate bills and passing the Environmental Human Rights Amendment.
PFAS Chemicals: The group successfully passed a bill to restrict the use of PFAS — chemicals emerging as a health issue in drinking water — in fire-fighting foams, rugs and carpets, and some food packaging through the George “Walter” Taylor Act. Reducing the use of PFAS chemicals in Maryland will prevent further contamination of water sources.
Climate Package: There was a significant emphasis on climate during this year’s legislative session, and the Senate’s Climate Solutions Now bill was passed with amendments. This progress supports Maryland’s efforts to be a climate leader and mitigate the impacts of climate change, especially in coastal communities on the Eastern Shore.
Maryland Environmental Human Rights Amendment: This bill, which would have created an enforceable right to a healthful environment did not successfully cross over during this session despite a strong showing of grassroots support.
For more information about ShoreRivers’ advocacy work, visit shorerivers.org/advocacy.