Maryland has failed to properly monitor the quality of the state’s lakes, rivers, and bays, said three environmental groups in a federal lawsuit filed Thursday.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, The Sierra Club and the American Littoral Society filed suit in U.S. District Court in Baltimore charging the Environmental Protection Agency with failing to thoroughly test and determine acceptable levels of contamination for the state’s bodies of water, as required by the Clean Water Act.
The goal of the suit is to force the EPA and state environmental agencies to meet the requirements of the act, said George Chmael II, a staff attorney for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. According to the foundation, government agencies are nearly 20 years behind what the law requires.
That the EPA, and not state agencies, is the target of the suit is a function of how the Clean Water Act assigns responsibilities for enforcement, Chmael said. The law requires the EPA to take over monitoring and standard setting if the state doesn’t do its job.
The filing of the suit follows months of discussion between the parties in attempts to work out their differences.
To the EPA, the environmentalists’ legal action is less a problem than an opportunity to “push the process forward,” said Michael McCabe, a regional administrator for the EPA’s Mid- Atlantic region. He added that his agency has faced three similar suits in this region, all of which were settled out of court.
“There’s nothing that focuses the mind better than a hanging,” McCabe said.
And although “we feel that Maryland has been meeting its responsibilities,” McCabe said, the suit’s resolution could help shift water improvement work toward a more comprehensive strategy. He said most work today has sought to eliminate water contamination emanating from specific sources like factories.
Explained Chmael, “We don’t really know what the status of the state’s waters are” without effective water quality testing and standard setting. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation claimed that none of the state’s ocean water is being monitored, and that only about 25 percent of its other waters are receiving any sort of quality testing.
Maryland authorities acknowledged they are behind schedule, but said the task is difficult.
“Logistically, this is a study of all the water bodies in the state,” said Canteen Banks, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment.
So far, the state has identified 130 bodies of water that have at least one type of contaminant. But the maximum allowable amount of those contaminants has not yet been set, as the Clean Water Act requires, Banks acknowledged. Kim Coble, a scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said most of the state’s water monitoring has so far been motivated by resident complaints and not part of comprehensive testing programs. -30-