MDE Will Continue Environmental Protection Enforcement During COVID-19 Crisis

The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) will continue normal environmental protection enforcement, despite the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) announcement that it would relax enforcement operations during the COVID-19 crisis.

In March the EPA issued a memorandum explaining that the Agency would not seek penalties for non-compliance with environmental monitoring and reporting requirements. Entities may later be required to submit documents detailing how non-compliance was due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis such as operation changes enacted to comply with Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines. Environmental advocates strongly opposed the EPA’s decision saying that it empowers polluters to avoid compliance without repercussions.

The EPA also stated that it would take the crisis into consideration when reviewing state actions around enforcement. States had varying reactions to the EPA’s announcement. Some welcomed the discretion, while others such as New York and California joined with environmental advocates to voice opposition. Despite this leeway from the federal government, MDE Secretary Ben Grumbles says his department will not be adopting a similar policy in Maryland.

From coverage in the Capital Gazette:

“We understand we may need to exercise discretion in enforcement of environmental regulations on a limited, case-by-case basis during a disaster, but Maryland is not issuing a broad upfront policy as EPA is doing,” Grumbles said. “Maryland remains fully committed to requiring compliance and we will continue to use enforcement as needed to protect the quality of our air, water, and land throughout the state and the Chesapeake Bay region.”

Spokesman Jay Apperson said by email that inspections are continuing, and enforcement discretion will be used only after a case-by-case review. What happens out of state can make a big difference in the hearts and lungs of Marylanders, Grumbles said.

“We are always concerned about what happens upwind of us. With cutting-edge science to track air pollution and legal safeguards under the federal Clean Air Act, we continue to press EPA and others in federal court to increase control of ozone in five states and to press the 13-state regional Ozone Transport Commission to petition EPA to require PA to do as much as we do in Maryland on controlling smog pollution from power plants,” he said in a statement.

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