WASHINGTON – Forty-seven Maryland companies will have to resubmit clean- air permit applications to the state, after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Monday ordered Maryland to conform with federal clean air standards.
The companies had applications pending under the state law, which says only state residents have “judicial standing” to object to a permit application. The EPA said that violates the Clean Air Act, which says complaints can be filed by anyone who can show they would be affected by a permit.
“It becomes important when you are living right over the border,” said EPA Region III spokeswoman Donna Heron. Anyone can comment, but “under the old Maryland law . . . you would not have as much clout as under the federal regulations.”
The EPA also gave the state 18 months to bring its law into compliance with federal law, or face the loss of federal highway funds. State lawmakers rejected such a change this year, but Heron said the EPA expects legislators will approve the change before sanctions have to be put in place.
While the EPA officially took over the program, it delegated authority to process permit applications back to the Maryland Department of the Environment. The department will continue to process and decide on applications, but it must follow the federal standards, and it can expect close EPA scrutiny.
“They’ll be looking at every permit we issue under this program,” said Karen Irons, the manager of the air quality permits program for the state.
Monday’s action stemmed from a November 2000 settlement between the EPA and the Sierra Club, which sued the federal agency for its failure to force compliance with Title V, which regulate the states’ largest air emissions sources. Under the settlement, 35 states were given until Dec. 1 to complete compliance with the federal standards.
Maryland and Connecticut were the only states that did not meet the deadline. The EPA did not take over Connecticut’s program because the state expects to have new regulations approved within the next few weeks, according to David Baron, a lawyer with Earthjustice, which represented the Sierra Club.
Baron called Maryland’s laws “archaic.” In addition to not allowing non- residents to object, he said state law also requires that a person must have been affected in a “substantially different” way from the rest of the population by the emissions.
“It’s just astonishing to me that a state like Maryland still clings to these ancient outmoded notions of who can go to court,” Baron said. “This is slamming the courthouse door to citizens who are concerned about protecting their health.”
Business groups could not predict Tuesday the extent to which the permitting process in Maryland will change under the new rules.
“It could have the effect of delaying permits,” said Jeffrey Marks, director of air quality for the National Manufacturers Association.
Because a federal agency is assuming oversight of a state-run program, Marks said administrative complications could delay the approval process.
But Heron said the application process “is not expected to take any more time.” After a permit is issued, however, she said applicants should expect to do more emissions monitoring to remain in compliance because the federal standards are more stringent.
“Once the application is granted, there is gong to have to be more work on the applicant’s part,” Heron said.