By ERICH WAGNER
ANNAPOLIS (Jan. 22, 2009)—The Maryland Department of the Environment has neglected to act on more than 1,400 violations of state and federal pollution laws, environmental groups said in a press conference Thursday.
The groups said they would take legal action to make the department enforce the law.
Baltimore's Wheelabrator incinerator and the Mirant Chalk Point power plant on the Patuxent River in Prince George's County have not been issued full operating permits and are emblematic of the department's lack of regulation for polluters, the activists said.
The Environmental Integrity Project, the Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper and Clean Water Action said they will file a complaint against the department to force it to issue a permit for the Wheelabrator facility.
Maryland was required to issue the permit in September 2007, but has yet to do so, Environmental Integrity Project lawyer Jennifer Peterson said, during a conference call with reporters. The Wheelabrator facility has been operating on a draft permit since February 2007.
Frank Ferraro, Wheelabrator's vice president of public policy, said the problem is with the department of the environment, not his company.
"We applied for a permit renewal on time," Ferraro said. "We continue to operate in compliance with the draft permit and submit our monitoring data to MDE."
The Environmental Integrity Project also sent the Mirant Corporation a letter announcing its intent to sue over alleged improper burning of residual fuel—which comes from the bottom of oil barrels and has higher sulfur content and other harmful particles.
The group used Environmental Protection Agency monitoring data, compiled hourly, to determine that Mirant had been burning residual fuel and had violated the Clean Air Act 1,430 times since 2006, Peterson said.
When asked for comment, Mirant Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman Misty Allen said the company does not comment on active litigation.
The state's failure to issue proper permits is not restricted to these two plants, Peterson said. Some plants have permits that allow for more pollution than the law allows, others have expired permits, and others have no permit at all, she said.
The groups resorted to legal action because they tried to work with the Maryland Department of the Environment for two years without results, they said.
Jane Barrett, director of the University of Maryland Environmental Law Clinic, said the failure of the department to take appropriate actions frustrated them to the point of filing suits.
"If MDE fails to take action, they're failing to do their statutory duty to protect the health and environment of citizens," Barrett said.
Eric Schaeffer, the Environmental Integrity Project's executive director, said the problem is endemic to the department.
"This is a larger bureaucratic and cultural problem at the agency we're talking about," Schaeffer said. "MDE's response [to public comment on permits] is not constructive or welcoming."
Schaeffer added that though there are similar problems in other states, it's particularly disappointing here.
"I have higher expectations from Maryland," Schaeffer said. "It's a progressive state, committed to environmental protection, with smog standards and particulate matter standards."
The Wheelabrator permit will be issued within the next two weeks, Dawn Stoltzfus, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of the Environment said. The permit was held up because of "several complex technical issues."
The department has been actively investigating the Mirant Chalk Point plant and has referred the situation to the attorney general for enforcement action, Stoltzfus said.
"The MDE places a high priority on public participation and comments," Stoltzfus said, in an email. "All of our major permits are subject to public comments and include the right for people to contest them."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.