State disputes ranking as 8th worst in pollution record U.S., state environmental agencies say figures for Md. are wrong.

June 20, 1991|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Evening Sun Staff

State and federal officials dispute an environmental group' claim that Maryland has one of the worst records in the country for enforcing compliance with federal water pollution laws

A report issued this week by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and its New Jersey affiliate said more than one-fourth of Maryland's 97 largest wastewater dischargers either were in significant violation of federal pollution laws or had failed to meet limits set in their discharge permits. The state had the eighth-worst Clean Water Act compliance rate in the nation, the report said.

But officials for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Maryland Department of the Environment said the report's figures for Maryland are wrong.

State officials said that only four large Maryland industrial and government facilities were in "significant non-compliance" with federal pollution laws from July through September 1990, the period covered by the report.

They were Eastern Stainless Steel Corp. in Baltimore, the Potomac Electric Power Co.'s Dickerson generating station, and sewage plants for the town of Hurlock in Dorchester County and Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County and Prince George's counties.

Another seven facilities were on government-imposed timetables to meet their pollution permit requirements during that time, said Carol Stokes-Cawley, chief of water enforcement in EPA's Philadelphia regional office, which oversees Maryland. Among those were Baltimore's Back River and Patapsco sewage treatment plants.

"Their report looks like it's kind of screwy," said Michael Sullivan, a spokesman for the state environmental agency. "Our figures are substantially different."said Michael Sullivan,a spokesman for the state environmental agency.

PIRG officials were at a loss to explain the discrepancy, saying they had relied on information supplied by EPA's Washington headquarters to Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J.

" We're as confused as anybody else is," said Dan Pontious executive director of Maryland PIRG."This just seems to underscore the need for acurate information for citizens who make request like this."

Pontious contended that "lax enforcement and poor compliance" Maryland was allowing industries and government facilities to " flood our communities and the Chesapeake Bay with toxics and other pollutants."

But Maryland officials, who joined EPA and other bay-area states last year in a campaign to improve compliance among the largest wastewater dischargers around the Chesapeake, contend that their efforts already have paid off with one of the best compliance rates in the country

The number of significant violators in Maryland has dropped to one, Eastern Stainless, giving Maryland a non-compliance rate of only 1 percent, say state and federal officials.Only five municipal sewage plants are exceeding their permit limits as they work under government timetables to upgrade their treatment processes

Gov. William Donald schaefer pledged last month that state officials would now concentrate on improving complience among smaller industries and sewage plants that discharge less than 1 million gallons of wastewater daily.

The PIRG report, which looked at 7,141 major dischargers, nationwide,contended that 20 percent of all large government and industrial facilities are either chronic violators of pollution laws or fail to meet their permit limits.

While state and federal regulators focus their attention mainly on chronic violators found in "significant non-compliance," the PIRG report said those facilities represent "just the tip of the iceberg." Many facilities unable to meet pollution limits in their discharge permits are given less stringent limits while improvements are made, usually in the form of construction of new treatment facilities.

"But until compliance is made, the permit limits aren't being met, and any discharge from those facilities is putting higher amounts of pollutants in a waterway than are allowed by law," said Jeannie Jenkins.A staff biologist with New Jersey PIRG and an author of the report.

PIRG officials say the Clean Water Act, which is being reviewed this year by Congress, should be amended to expand citizen access to information about polluters and to strengthen citizens' rights to file suit against violators. The report also called for mandatory minimum penalties for significant violators, annual inspections and more criminal enforcement authority for the states.

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