Losing control of air pollution

Legislative stalemate: Maryland to turn over permit program to EPA because compromise failed.

April 15, 2001

MARYLAND'S loss of authority to regulate its air pollution control program is not fatal, but it is highly embarrassing.

The state's failure to comply with the federal Clean Air Act means the loss of $4 million when the federal Environmental Protection Agency takes over the emissions permit program, writing conditions for Maryland businesses out of the Philadelphia office.

Maryland becomes the first state to lose authority for the federal permits, which regulate the levels of pollutants allowed from big furnaces and smokestacks.

The problem is a Maryland law that denies most citizens a right to challenge a permit's conditions in court. A bill to widen that right, and meet federal law, was defeated because it also took away citizen rights to challenge the permits at lower-level hearings.

The state, environmental forces and businesses failed to reach a compromise, as did the state legislators. The failure of the General Assembly to pass acceptable legislation this year means Maryland will not meet a court-ordered deadline of Dec. 1 to comply.

The state will continue to issue permits to enforce state air quality laws, but not as a consolidated process.

As a result, permit approvals will take longer, which should make no one happy. The governor and legislative leaders must work hard for a remedy next year that will avoid this unseemly stalemate that left a foul smell in the air over Annapolis.

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