Delay in Md. environment law data draws concern
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.