De­lay in Md. en­vi­ron­ment law data draws con­cern

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Scott Dance sdance@balt­sun.com

State en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tors ex­pect to be months late with re­ports de­tail­ing how ac­tively they in­ves­ti­gate pol­luters — a sign, some law­mak­ers say, that Mary­land may not have enough re­sources to en­force laws in­tended to pro­tect the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay and pub­lic health.

A re­port due each Oc­to­ber re­veals how of­ten the Mary­land De­part­ment of the En­vi­ron­ment cites busi­nesses and prop­erty own­ers and how much it col­lects in fines, but this year’s re­port isn’t ex­pected un­til early De­cem­ber.

Gen­eral Assem­bly lead­ers de­manded a study this year ac­count­ing for how many in­spec­tors the de­part­ment em­ploys and the work­load each car­ries, but that data isn’t ex­pected un­til weeks be­fore the leg­is­la­ture re­con­venes in Jan­uary.

The dead­lines mat­ter be­cause the in­for­ma­tion is meant to be a fac­tor as Gov. Larry Ho­gan pre­pares a bud­get he will pro­pose to leg­is­la­tors in Jan­uary, ad­vo­cates and state del­e­gates said.

“If the in­for­ma­tion isn’t there, how can the gov­er­nor make good de­ci­sions about the bud­get?” asked Kris­ten Harbe­son, po­lit­i­cal di­rec­tor for the Mary­land League of Con­ser­va­tion Vot­ers.

State of­fi­cials would not say why the re­ports are late but said en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tors have enough re­sources to do their jobs.

“The bud­get process is un­der way and the ad­min­is­tra­tion will have all the needed in­put from the ap­pro­pri­ate agen­cies,” said Amelia Chasse, a spokes­woman for Ho­gan.

Del. Brooke Lier­man, one of the law­mak­ers de­mand­ing the state in­for­ma­tion, said the missed dead­lines are a sign Mary­land lacks re­sources.

“With the num­ber of en­force­ment po­si­tions they have, I just don’t know how it would be phys­i­cally pos­si­ble for their in­spec­tors to be do­ing the level of en­force­ment re­quired to re­duce pol­lu­tion or keep the bay clean or abate lead poi­son­ing,” the Bal­ti­more Demo­crat said.

Data com­piled by the Cen­ter for Pro­gres­sive Re­form, a Wash­ing­ton-based think tank that is among groups rais­ing con­cerns about en­force­ment, sug­gest some en­force­ment re­sources have de­clined or are in­suf­fi­cient.

The num­ber of in­spec­tors the state em­ploys to in­ves­ti­gate ma­jor sources of wa­ter pol­lu­tion has fallen by 30 per­cent over the past 15 years, for ex­am­ple, ac­cord­ing to the cen­ter.

The state De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture in­spects only15 per­cent of more than 5,000 farms for pos­si­ble ni­tro­gen and phos­pho­rus pol­lu­tion be­cause it em­ploys fewer than 10 in­spec­tors in its Of­fice of Re­source Con­ser­va­tion, ac­cord­ing to the cen­ter.

The num­ber of cases state of­fi­cials re­fer to the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice for crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion has de­clined by one-third since 2014, en­vi­ron­men­tal groups found through a pub­lic in­for­ma­tion re­quest.

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