WASHINGTON – An environmental group on Wednesday gave Maryland a D for its efforts to meet federal clean water standards, even though an author of the report said the state “has actually made some pretty good progress.”
Michael Murray, staff scientist with the National Wildlife Federation, said Maryland falls short on several aspects of the law regulating polluted runoff and contaminated rain, known as total maximum daily loads, or TMDLs.
Despite its low grade, however, Maryland actually had one of the better scores in the federation’s report card. The report assigned Ds and Fs to 41 of the 53 U.S. states and territories measured. No state received an A and Maryland ranked 13th from the top, according to Murray.
Officials with the Maryland Department of Environment said they were surprised at the low grade.
“We’ve been working very hard on this pollution issue for a very long time,” said Robert Summers, director of technical and regulatory services for MDE. “We’ll put our programs up against anybody’s.”
The federation graded states according to how well they met TMDL requirements of the Clean Water Act. The law says states must develop plans to clean up waterways that have dangerous levels of nutrients and other pollutants.
Murray said Maryland needs to get the public more involved, make sure all threatened waterways are the on the cleanup list, and establish cleanup plans with enforceable deadlines.
Summers said he had not had a chance to read the report and did not want to respond to specifics. But he said that Maryland “already [has] in place an extremely extensive public participation network through the Chesapeake Bay Program” and other environmental programs.
But the staff attorney for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation called the D grade “appropriate.”
George Chmael said Maryland “has failed to do what the [Clean Water Act] required them to do nearly 20 years ago, which is to adequately assess all of our waterways to determine [pollutants], list them, prioritize them and develop TMDLs for them, and ultimately implement them.”
The federation’s report came out one day after a National Academy of Sciences report cited Maryland’s 1998 Water Quality Improvement Act and said it should be emulated on the federal level. The state program requires Maryland farmers to develop and implement nutrient management plans over the next few years.
A federation official said Wednesday’s report card was issued as an “antidote” to “the kinds of misinformation that states and Congress and EPA are hearing” from large industries, agribusinesses and timber operations, which oppose the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed revisions to the TMDL program.
The federation study looked at reports that states are required to submit to the EPA, listing which pollutants they are addressing in specific waterways. Researchers also examined correspondence on those submissions between EPA and state officials.
EPA, in a prepared response to the report, said it is “committed to helping states and communities restore polluted waters across the country.” It said many states “have already dedicated a great amount of effort to tackling the country’s remaining water-quality problems and they have overcome tremendous pollution problems.”
But the federation report notes that Maryland got moving on its TMDLs only after the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Sierra Club and the American Littoral Society filed suit against EPA for not forcing the state to comply with the law.
Summers agreed that the lawsuit and dozens like it in other states resulted in stepped-up efforts to address TMDLs at state and federal levels.