Environmentalists lose on 'legal standing' to sue bill

March 26, 1994|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Sun Staff Writer

In a setback for environmentalists, the state Senate yesterday narrowly defeated legislation that would have broadened the legal authority of individuals to sue to stop incinerators, landfills or similar projects.

The measure would have widened the "legal standing" of individuals to challenge a dozen different types of permits issued by the state departments of Natural Resources and Environment, including those involving oil or gas drilling, surface mining, hazardous waste dumps, discharges into state waters, rubble landfills and low-level nuclear waste facilities.

Opponents, principally from the state's most rural counties, tried for two days to postpone a vote and finally succeeded in killing the measure, 23-22.

They complained the bill would have prolonged and added cost to already exhaustive procedures to find locations for projects that are always controversial to those living near them.

Because the measure was expected to face serious opposition in the House even if it survived a Senate vote, it appears unlikely it will be revived this session.

Witnesses had told a Senate committee of cases in which landowners living next to a proposed incinerator, a degraded stream or a polluting landfill tried to sue, but were barred under Maryland's currently restrictive rules involving legal standing.

Sen. Habern W. Freeman Jr., a Democrat who formerly was Harford County's executive, said in that job he was forced to find sites for garbage and rubble landfills as well as for an incinerator that would generate steam by burning garbage.

He said the legislation would have made all those actions more difficult.

Senator Freeman said the public puts its trash out on the street every two to three days and expects the government to dispose of it.

He argued that legislation that would help a few neighbors ofsay, a proposed landfill would be detrimental to the vast majority of a jurisdiction's residents.

In unsuccessful arguments on behalf of the bill, Sen. Gerald WWinegrad, an Anne Arundel Democrat and the bill's floor leader, said that only people who could demonstrate they would suffer injury from a proposed project would get new standing to sue.

"What you would have to show is that, in effect, you are suffering some injury: to the economic value of your land, or some health impact, or some injury to a stream or something else that runs by your property," Senator Winegrad said.

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