April 20, 2017
FY2018 Budget includes $400,000 for enforcement positions at Departments of Agriculture and the Environment
ANNAPOLIS, MD – In the final budget passed last week by the Maryland General Assembly, legislators set aside $400,000 to hire enforcement and compliance staff at the Maryland Departments of Agriculture (MDA) and the Environment (MDE). This reverses a long trend of cutting funding and staff positions for inspections and enforcement of environmental laws.
Clean water advocates applauded the move, which received little attention in the General Assembly’s press coverage, and say it is especially needed given the proposed elimination of federal Chesapeake Bay restoration funding.
“We have good laws on the books, but they only work if we enforce them,” said Jacqueline Guild, executive director of the Chesapeake Legal Alliance. “Providing funding for sufficient staffing helps clean up local waters and the Chesapeake Bay by ensuring that programs work, sites are inspected and polluters are held accountable.”
Advocates say funding for enforcement staff is sorely needed. A recent analysis by the Center for Progressive Reform found that MDE’s Water Management Administration lost more than one-third of its overall inspection staff between 2000 and 2016. Personnel resources within MDA’s Office of Resource Conservation have remained stagnant, despite its increasing responsibilities to track nutrient management plans and Annual Implementation Reports for animal feeding operations. MDA is also charged with implementing the crucial new agricultural phosphorus management tool regulations.
Records show that MDA’s nutrient management program had just seven inspectors in 2015 yet these staff were tasked with inspecting over 5,300 agricultural operations in the state.
“Maryland is making progress in cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, but we risk backtracking if environmental enforcement doesn’t keep up,” said Evan Isaacson, policy analyst for the Center for Progressive Reform. “The most effective best management practice for improving water quality is enforcement.”
Both MDA and MDE have noted the historic lack of enforcement funding. MDE has stated for years in its annual enforcement report that resource constraints limit its enforcement capabilities. MDA’s Nutrient Management Advisory Committee has also stated that current staffing to implement the state’s nutrient management laws is insufficient.
“We can’t rely on the federal government to stand up for clean water and for the environment right now,” said Karla Raettig, executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters. “We need state leadership and we’re grateful to the Maryland General Assembly for taking action this year.”
Many environmental advocates fear that Chesapeake Bay funding from the federal government will be drastically cut. President Trump has proposed large budget cuts to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, including a full elimination of funding for the Chesapeake Bay cleanup. Advocates say increased enforcement and oversight by state government is critical in light of potential federal cuts.