Md. polluters don't get a free pass

October 13, 2012

A recent Sun editorial, "Free pass for Md. polluters?," (Sept. 27) did not take into account all of the ways that Maryland enforces water pollution violations. Criminal prosecution is just one tool that we employ to protect public health and the environment in Maryland. Administrative and civil authority is often the more effective route to achieve compliance with environmental laws due to the high bar set by the courts for criminal enforcement.

The majority of Maryland businesses and citizens comply with environmental laws, but a strong and fair enforcement program is essential to protect our investment in the environment as well as the health and quality of life of all Maryland residents. At the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), we know that enforcement actions are essential to prevent further pollution and risks to public health. MDE places a very high priority on enforcement. MDE and the Office of the Attorney General work hard to make the best use of available resources to ensure that unlawful actions by a few do not negate the work of many to restore and protect our environment.

In addition to taking enforcement actions and issuing penalties, MDE routinely issues press releases, posts enforcement actions on the web and shares information with the public about enforcement activities to maximize the deterrence value of each enforcement action by making sure violators know that we are serious about enforcement of environmental laws in Maryland.

MDE is committed to continuing to improve our effectiveness using the "MDEstat" data-driven management oversight process to track enforcement activity. In 2011 and 2010 combined, we took 2,591 enforcement actions and obtained administrative or civil penalties in the amount of nearly $4 million related to water violations. We publish and post on the MDE web page an annual enforcement report covering the activities of all of our enforcement programs including the eight related to water. These efforts are paying off. Water enforcement actions have increased from 752 in 2008 to nearly 1,100 in 2011.

Maryland continues to make significant investments in the restoration of our waterways. We must protect those investments. Everyone benefits from actions taken to ensure that businesses and citizens are in compliance with environmental laws and regulations. Potential violators of Maryland's water pollution regulations are on notice that there is no "free pass."

Robert M. Summers, Annapolis

The writer is secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment.

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