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New bill pushes Maryland Department of Environment to consider environmental justice when approving new permits

Posted on March 14, 2023

The Climate, Labor, and Environmental Equity Act seeks to require the Maryland Department of Environment to look at a whole community, and any projects in it that may already be contributing to air and water pollution when making the decision to green light permitting for additional projects.

“It allows MDE to look at what are the cumulative impacts of multiple agricultural facilities in a small vicinity perhaps near a school or near homes,” said Center For Progressive Reform Senior Analyst Katlyn Schmitt, who testified in favor of the bill during a hearing Wednesday afternoon.

She says the bill would affect all facilities that are permitted under statute 1601 of facilities that already require public notice under the Maryland state code, which opens the door to not only block future facilities but due to many permits requiring periodic renewal could also result in the rescinding of permitting for existing facilities found to be in communities in the upper percentiles of poverty and environmental risk.

“Low-wealth communities and communities of color are experiencing health burdens at a disproportionate rate, Schmitt said, adding that the Eastern Shore faces a unique risk due to a large amount of agricultural industry.

“On the eastern shore whenever a new concentrated animal feeding station is considering to be built MDE will look at the specific impacts of that one animal feeding operation what this bill would do is would be unable to MDE to look at the other agricultural facilities that in the vicinity rather than just the one facility that is being proposed to be built,” Schmitt said.

While advocates like Schmitt say the change would allow for greater environmental justice and remove the “horse blinders” from the regulatory agency, opponents say the bill would hurt businesses’ interests, and discourage the companies from operating within the state.

Delegate Scott Adams tells 47ABC that he believes the measure to be redundant, and would further take power away from businesses and place them within the MDE, which he says could be problematic for other sectors beyond infrastructure or agriculture.

“This type of bill forces developers to go through a lengthy process without any guarantee that they are going to walk away with a viable project,” he said.

But Schmitt says she disagrees with that characterization, saying the pollution caused by those sectors is in a different class, and at a much smaller scale compared to facilities such as DAF tanks, Fertilizer manufacturing, and chicken houses wastewater treatment plants.

“New housing development has not and will not cause disparate impacts on those communities because that pollutant is sediment,” she said.

Bill supporters say wealthier areas have been able to block proposed projects near them for decades, and without this system, the harm that these facilities cause will continue to be exported to lower-income communities.

“We want to make sure that MDE is considering the impacts of the pollution on the health of local residents in its totality which it currently does not do,” Schmitt said.


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