Clean water advocates and several Maryland elected officials met Tuesday morning via Zoom to denounce what they consider the state’s lagging enforcement and inspection measures against polluters, and to call for more accountability from Maryland’s next governor to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.
The meeting followed an announcement by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, as well as one from the Environmental Protection Agency, that Maryland and other bay states are not on track to meet the 2025 deadline for reducing pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, a goal established in 2010 by the EPA under the federal Clean Water Act. The cleanup plan is called the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.
According to the foundation’s annual “State of the Blueprint” report — which assessed progress in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia, the bay’s largest polluters — “no state is completely on track.” The report, which was released this year, found that states “will achieve their 2025 commitments for wastewater, but not for agriculture or urban and suburban runoff.” Given its progress on wastewater, Maryland may meet its overall objectives, although those may be unsustainable if it does not take more actions in other areas, the report indicated.
In an evaluation of Maryland’s milestones, the EPA wrote that “[a]ccording to the data provided by Maryland for the 2021 progress run, Maryland did not achieve its statewide 2021 targets for nitrogen and phosphorus but did achieve its statewide 2021 targets for sediment.”
Advocates from Blue Water Baltimore, Waterkeepers Chesapeake, the Potomac Riverkeeper Network, the Environmental Integrity Project and the NAACP Maryland State Conference, among others — as well as Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and other elected officials — agreed that the state’s lack of progress was due to a variety of reasons.
A central problem, they said, is the state’s inadequate enforcement of laws and limits imposed by the cleanup plan created under the Clean Water Act. Tuesday is the act’s 50th anniversary.
Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project, said enforcement is particularly important for agricultural pollution.
“Forty-two percent of the nitrogen, 55% of the phosphorus and 60% of the sediment in the bay comes from agriculture,” Schaeffer said. “We’ve relied on voluntary programs and exhortation to persuade the agricultural industry to do its part, it’s just not working.”
Instead, Schaeffer advocated for limits on the agricultural sector that are enforceable.
“And we need them enforced,” he said. “Not just limits, but actual enforcement. Until we get that, we’re just going to be back here in another 15 years bemoaning the failure of yet another bay cleanup plan.”
State Sen. Paul Pinsky, a Prince George’s County Democrat, added that the Maryland Department of the Environment’s enforcement and inspection actions have decreased significantly in recent years. In 2021, Pinsky said the Maryland Department of the Environment conducted about 3,500 inspections, about a 39% drop from the average from the previous 20 years, which was about 5,700.
With fewer inspections, Pinsky said, the Maryland Department of the Environment will find fewer violations. He said 11 years ago in 2011, the department found 330 significant violations. In 2021, he said there were just 40. That’s a drop of about 88%. Enforcement actions have also dropped significantly, he said.
“Unfortunately, the [Hogan] administration’s oversight of our state’s drinking water has basically been the Wild West,” he said.
Pinsky pointed out a poultry rendering plant in Dorchester County called Valley Proteins, which for years was allowed to operate on an expired permit. Pinsky argued that Gov. Larry Hogan did not do enough in response to the plant’s violations.
Earlier this year, the Maryland legislature passed a bill that requires the state to “clear the backlog” of so-called “zombie permits” by December 2026, and requires inspections for facilities operating with such permits. Those are permits that are supposed to be reviewed and updated by the state every five years, but instead are allowed to continue without review — and are thus expired and outdated.
Frosh said the Maryland Department of the Environment is understaffed and underfunded — too much so to do its job well.
He pointed to a 2021 report commissioned by the EPA that found the Maryland Department of Environment’s Water Supply Program needed about 187% more full-time employees than it was staffed for at the time, as well as 93% more funding “to effectively implement the [water supply] program and ensure safe drinking water for the public.”
Some leaders criticized Hogan specifically for enforcement failures.
According to Dean Naujoks of the Potomac Riverkeeper Network, “leadership matters.”
Under Hogan, Naujoks said, enforcement actions have dropped significantly.
“He pretends he’s a champion for the bay,” Naujoks said, “but he’s been letting all the polluters off the hook.”
Hogan administration spokesperson Michael Ricci said in an email that the governor “has made historic investment in Chesapeake Bay restoration, and has led the charge to hold the EPA and other jurisdictions accountable for doing their part to cleanup the Bay.”
“We appreciate the Chesapeake Bay Foundation recently affirming that Maryland is on track to meet its pollution reduction goals,” Ricci added.
The next governor, Naujoks said, needs to show more leadership in cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, as well as “cleaning up our rivers and streams,” he said.
Others agreed. Pinsky says he hopes to see the new governor increase the state environment department’s budget.
In an email, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wes Moore spokesperson Carter Elliott said that “as governor, Wes Moore will urge the EPA and other states in the Watershed to hold up their end of the bargain while working hard to ensure that we’re doing everything we can in Maryland to protect the Chesapeake Bay.”
Republican nominee Dan Cox did not respond to a request for comment, and does not mention the Chesapeake Bay on his campaign website.
This story has been updated to reflect State Sen. Paul Pinsky's views on the state environment department's budget.