17 Clean Water Organizations Urge Maryland to Improve Transparency of Pollution Control Permits

A coalition of clean water organizations called the Chesapeake Accountability Project, along with several allies, sent a letter to the Maryland Department of the Environment on September 2, urging the agency to improve public access to water pollution control permits, so that local groups can express their opinions on proposed pollution limits for industries and demand a cleanup of their waterways.

The letter, addressed to Lee Currey, Director of the Maryland Department of the Environment’s (MDE) Water and Science Administration, complained that in Maryland – unlike in many other states – there is currently a lack of online access for the public to review draft water pollution control permits (called National Pollution Discharge Elimination Systems of NPDES permits). MDE also often fails to notify local organizations of opportunities to comment on, and request improvements in, permits for sewage treatment plants, industries, factory farms, and other facilities.

“Public participation is not a bonus or side feature in the Clean Water Act, it is at its heart,” the organizations wrote. “‘Congress identified public participation rights as a critical means of advancing the goals of the Clean Water Act in its primary statement of the act’s approach and philosophy,”‘ the groups wrote, citing a 2003 court case, Environmental Defense Center, Inc. v. EPA. The department’s own regulations also emphasize the importance of public participation in water quality decisions: “‘The Department shall make a maximum effort to seek out and involve the interested public both at the preliminary stage and throughout the process of development of regulations, plans, and other [water quality] program actions,”‘ the groups wrote, quoting state law.

To address the problem, the organizations urged MDE to:

1) Publish a list of all draft National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits for which the Department is currently seeking public comment in a prominent, easily found place on the Department’s website;

2) Include in this public notice list a description and location of the facility so that the public can identify the facility without knowing the permit number, as well as a phone number and email address the public can use to request more information; and

3) Include in this public notice list a hyperlink to each tentative determination/draft permit (called a draft permit in this letter) and draft fact sheet or statement of basis.

“We ask that the Department’s November 2022 NPDES public notice list, and all future NPDES public notices, be published online with hyperlinks to the draft permits and supporting documents as described in the beginning of this letter,” the organizations wrote. “This is a basic, fundamental step to ensuring that the Department complies with the public engagement goals of the Clean Water Act, the nation’s civil rights laws, and Maryland’s environmental justice commitments.”

For a copy of the letter, click here.

The organizations and people signing the letter were:

Natalia Cabrera and Meg Parish
Environmental Integrity Project

Angela Haren, Senior Attorney
Chesapeake Legal Alliance

Josh Kurtz, Maryland Executive Director
Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Katlyn Schmitt, Senior Policy Analyst
Center for Progressive Reform

Blue Water Baltimore

Catoctin Land Trust

Clean Water Action

Corsica River Conservancy

Dorchester Citizens for Planned Growth

Friends of Quincy Run

Maryland Conservation Council

Maryland League of Conservation Voters


Sierra Club – Maryland Chapter

Southern Maryland Audubon Society

St. Mary’s River Watershed Association

West Montgomery County Citizens Association