Concerns Raised Over Maryland’s Environmental Prosecution Case Backlog

A November 29 Baltimore Sun article highlights concerns about the backlog of environmental enforcement cases at the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE).  Critics are claiming that MDE should be doing more and that staff shortages are no excuse while MDE argues that the backlog is actually the result of increased enforcement efforts.  

Rena Steinzor, a University of Maryland law professor and president of a pro-regulation think tank called the Center for Progressive Reform, says the state is missing a chance to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay through stricter enforcement of environmental laws and rules.

“A backlog is a very bad sign,” she said. “There’ve been problems for many years. Maryland has been insufficiently vigorous.”  …

Steven R. Johnson, an assistant attorney general who serves as MDE’s principal counsel, said the backlog actually is a byproduct of more aggressive enforcement — but a shortage of lawyers to deal with it.

Until a few years ago, state regulators had tried a gentler approach, Johnson explained, negotiating with violators to fix problems without hitting them with fines. But O’Malley administration officials concluded that “compliance assistance,” as it was known, wasn’t working in many cases, so they decided to start referring all significant violations to the attorney general’s office for legal action.

It is an ongoing concern of county governments that if  MDE is viewed as unable to properly enforce environmental violations, compliance responsibilities could be shifted to local governments.

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