Failing the Bay: Clean Water Act Enforcement in Maryland Falling Short
Center for Progressive Reform White Paper No. 1004
67 Pages Posted: 22 May 2010
Date Written: April 8, 2010
The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) is responsible for enforcing Clean Water Act (CWA) requirements in Maryland. This report evaluates MDE's enforcement of the CWA and draws three significant conclusions: (1) MDE is drastically underfunded; (2) MDE has not designed its enforcement program to effectively deter dischargers from violating CWA and state water quality laws; and (3) MDE fails to take advantage of citizen suits to supplement its own enforcement actions and to maximize its limited resources.
Between 2000 and 2009, MDE's enforcement budget declined in real terms by 25 percent, which coincides with a doubling of the number of permits in effect. The funding shortages are especially pronounced with respect to the enforcement workforce and the number of inspectors. During the same period, the number of active, full-time inspectors has also decreased by 25 percent. Regardless of the funding shortfalls, however, MDE's enforcement program does not effectively deter CWA violations. MDE relies primarily on paper reviews of reports submitted by regulated entities, and MDE has settled for strikingly low penalties that fail to recover the violator's economic benefit from noncompliance. MDE has also failed to maximize the use of citizen suits by preempting suits filed by citizens and blocking them from subsequent participation in legal action.
Ultimately, because MDE is starved for resources and has persisted in carrying out an inadequately designed program, its CWA enforcement program is ineffective at deterring noncompliance across the spectrum of regulated sectors. This report makes specific recommendations to improve and reinvigorate MDE's enforcement program. If the goal is cleaner waters in Maryland and ultimately a restored Chesapeake Bay, MDE must forcefully and publicly rededicate its commitment to enforcement.
Keywords: Clean Water Act, Maryland, enforcement
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