State environmental officials have quietly begun to revise new state toxic pollution regulations that have been challenged in court by industry. The move worries environmentalists, who say they fear the state may be relaxing the rules.
Environment Secretary Martin W. Walsh Jr. confirmed today he had invited industry officials to a meeting tomorrow to consider changing a key part of the state's water toxic rules, adopted earlier this year.
Walsh said he wanted to "fix" a rule requiring industry to meet toxic pollution limits at the end of wastewater discharge pipes, rather than after wastes had been diluted in the stream. The so-called "mixing zone" rule is one of many issues challenged in Baltimore Circuit Court by Bethlehem Steel Corp., Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. and other industries.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has directed Maryland to make relatively minor changes in the rule, but Walsh said he planned broader changes because EPA is changing its guidelines and has approved less stringent regulations in other states. Walsh said in a letter last month that he feared Maryland's rule could put the state's businesses at a competitive disadvantage.
"It's not like we're rewriting all the regs here," Walsh said. "We're just addressing a very small part."
Environmentalists complain that the meeting was not publicly announced, and they said they feared the state was backing down in the face of industry opposition.
"It usually works against the interests of the environmental community when only a small number of people are invited," said Jessica Landman, staff attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington.
"We'd like to see the meeting called off," said Nita Settina, legislative coordinator of the Sierra Club's Potomac chapter. "We just hope the Department of the Environment isn't ready to sell the farm."
But Walsh insisted the rules still would be tougher than those in many other states, and he said tomorrow's meeting was an open one. He said EPA officials and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation also were invited. James Robertson, an attorney with the bay foundation, said he planned to attend, but he was unsure if he would participate.