Environmental Groups Challenge County MS4 Stormwater Permits

A July 11 Baltimore Sun B’More Green article reported that various in-state and out-of-state environmental groups have initiated lawsuits challenging the  National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Phase I Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permits that the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) is issuing to certain counties.  The article noted that groups have challenged the permits for Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, and Prince George’s Counties.

The [environmental] groups argue that the state-issued permits are so vague they are unenforceable, and without more teeth they  will allow pollution problems to continue. The shortcomings will leave local waters unsafe to swim in and unable to support fish, crabs and shellfish, the groups contend, and will  hinder restoration of the Chesapeake Bay.

State officials have defended what they call “next generation” pollution-control permits that they say significantly strengthen storm-water cleanup efforts in Maryland’s largest communities. The permits require each locality to retrofit 20 percent of its streets, alleys, parking lots and buildings over the next five years to prevent polluted runoff. Local officials must develop “enforceable implementation plans” for meeting water-quality standards, according to a release on MDE’s website.

The groups argue that by leaving the details of what each locality must do until later, the state risks delays and shortcomings in reducing storm-water pollution, a significant and growing threat to cleaning up the bay.

These challenges follow a successful legal challenge brought last year against the MS4 permit that MDE issued to Montgomery County.  The circuit court found against MDE, citing the lack of specific benchmarks and deadlines.  The State has appealed the ruling to Maryland Court of Special Appeals and MACo will be participating in an amicus brief effort coordinated by the Maryland Municipal Stormwater Association (MAMSA) in support of the State’s position.  Decisions in the Montgomery County case, as well as the four more recent cases, will likely affect those counties needing Phase II MS4 permits from the State.

The article also noted a recent assessment by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is critical of Maryland’s stormwater management efforts:

The EPA said the state also was too shorthanded to keep tabs on localities’ efforts to reduce polluted runoff from existing buildings and pavement. And in a finding that appears to echo environmentalists’ complaints, the federal assessment called for state regulators to include “more-enforceable schedules” in the storm-water pollution permits it issues to localities.