The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently announced that it had cited nine municipalities in the Chesapeake Bay watershed for storm water pollution violations, including Baltimore and Anne Arundel County, Md.
“EPA, in partnership with states, is taking clear steps to protect the water quality of local streams and rivers,” Jon M. Capacasa, director of the Water Protection Division for EPA’s mid-Atlantic region, said in a press release.
No argument with that concept. It would certainly be good to see EPA cracking down on polluters. The New York Times recently ran a lengthy front-page investigative series about the federal agency’s lack of enforcement of federal clean water laws. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson responded to the articles by pledging to Congress that her agency will become more aggressive.
Enforcement of the law is a critical tool in environmental protection, and immediately addressing violations is needed. Fines and penalties are obviously not required in all situations. But they should be part of the enforcement picture, when appropriate.
Some of the violation notices highlighted by EPA last week were for paperwork problems, like cities failing to file annual pollution discharge reports for several years running. These might not seem so bad. But then again, would the IRS let me off the hook without a penalty if I failed to file an income tax form for several years running? I think not.
And there was also real water pollution. EPA inspected my home town, Baltimore, and found several violations at a garbage handling facility called the Northwest Transfer Station, at 5030 Reisterstown Road. Inspectors discovered two oil spills leaking into a downstream storm drain, as well as waste oil tanks overflowing into another ditch that flows toward the Bay, according to the violation notice.
I asked EPA spokesman David Sternberg why none of the municipalities had been fined, and he replied that the agency still could potentially move forward and issue penalties at some point in the future.
I hope that EPA holds the feet of local government to the fire. Sure, my taxes and those of other Baltimore residents would end up paying any penalties. But I’d rather see that green flow away than an oily sheen glistening on the Inner Harbor.
For a list of the municipalities cited for the violation notices, read the EPA press release below:
(PHILADELPHIA – November 12, 2009) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has cited 14 municipalities in Pennsylvania and Maryland for stormwater violations, nine of which are within the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
“EPA, in partnership with the states, is taking clear steps to protect the water quality of local streams and rivers,” said Jon M. Capacasa, director of the Water Protection Division for EPA’s mid-Atlantic region. “Because many of these municipalities are in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, this action, along with others will also help protect and restore the Bay,"
Urbanized areas contain large portions of impervious surfaces such as roads, rooftops and parking lots that channel stormwater directly into local streams, rivers, and other water bodies. Improperly managed stormwater runoff from urbanized areas often contains high levels of nutrients, sediment, toxic metals, volatile organic compounds, and other pollutants.
EPA requires the cited municipalities to correct problems with their respective municipal separate storm sewer (MS4) programs and come into compliance with their state-issued discharge permits. MS4s are publicly owned drainage systems designed to collect and convey stormwater from urbanized areas.
In Pennsylvania, EPA issued orders to Birdsboro Borough and Ontelaunee Township in Berks County; Mechanicsburg Borough in Cumberland County; Atrim Township in Franklin County; East Donegal Township, Terre Hill Borough, Pequea Township, Akron Borough and East Earl Township in Lancaster County; Myerstown Borough in Lebanon County; and, Monaghan and Newberry Townships in York County.
In Maryland, EPA issued orders to Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County.
Several of these municipalities have already taken steps to comply with the orders.