Toothless environmental protection State inaction: Weak enforcement record prompts federal EPA intervention.

August 26, 1996

ENVIRONMENTAL enforcement under two years of the Glendening administration has fallen off the screen.

Citations issued by the state for wetlands, water and wastewater violations over the past two years have dropped by 50 percent. Air pollution penalties are two-thirds what they were in 1993. Penalties collected from criminal prosecutions plunged 60 percent in that period, the number of criminal prosecutions dropped by 30 percent.

These findings by Sun reporter Timothy B. Wheeler highlight an appalling indifference to enforcement that is mirrored by a bureaucratic enthusiasm for rubber-stamping developer permit approvals to destroy wetlands, build in flood plains and degrade state waters.

The statistics are shocking enough, even when state officials argue that voluntary compliance efforts are having greater effect.

But Maryland's enforcement lassitude has prompted the Environmental Protection Agency to press the state. In some egregious cases of state foot-dragging, EPA has intervened to issue its own citations and stiff penalties.

The governor's embrace of a pro-business philosophy seems to have influenced this unfortunate decline. So has his decision to transfer wetlands and waterways enforcement to Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), headed by Secretary Jane Nishida. Citations for nontidal wetlands violations have virtually disappeared, down 90 percent in the past year; wetlands inspections have noticeably declined.

"They're tiptoeing around enforcement, when that's just giving in to those people," said one environmental leader.

Questions about the enforcement resolve of MDE are even more alarming with the recent agreement that hands over federal wetlands authority to the state agency, the kind of streamlining championed by Ms. Nishida and developers. While simplifying the process for builders, the delegation of authority limits citizens' input and ability to file court challenges.

In the past, we have applauded the governor for improving the state's business climate and working cooperatively, not as an adversary, with companies. But that does not mean abandoning sensible environmental enforcement, especially in a state where protecting the Chesapeake Bay must be a primary concern.

Pub Date: 8/26/96

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