Maryland Legislature Passes Law Allowing Public Intervention in Clean Water Enforcement

Annapolis, MD — Today, the Maryland General Assembly passed a bill that guarantees the right for the public to participate in state clean water enforcement lawsuits brought against polluters. This legislation provides an unconditional right to intervene in these cases, ensuring that Marylanders have the chance to be heard when it comes to keeping the state’s waterways clean and polluters in line with the law.

Attorneys for the Environmental Integrity Project and Waterkeepers Chesapeake testified before Maryland lawmakers in support of the bill, and now celebrate its passage into law, pending the signature of Maryland Governor Larry Hogan.

“Before now, Marylanders were prohibited from joining in state cases enforcing clean water laws against those dumping illegal pollution across the state,” said Environmental Integrity Project Attorney Sylvia Lam. “This bill ensures that individuals, communities, and other groups in Maryland have a right to intervene, to have their voices heard, and to have a chance to advocate for their interests in attaining cleaner waterways and a healthier Maryland.”

“Correcting the court decision that took away a right guaranteed by the Clean Water Act has been a long time coming,” said Betsy Nicholas, executive director at Waterkeepers Chesapeake. “Residents and communities are usually the first to notice and report pollution in their local waterways. And they are often the ones harmed by that pollution. With this bill, they can now have a seat at the table and have their voices heard when a remedy is being decided.”

The bill was sponsored by Senator Jill Carter from District 41 and Delegate Sara Love from District 16.

“Maryland’s economy, our drinking water, and our rivers are all inextricably linked,” said Sen. Jill P. Carter, who represents MD District 41 in Baltimore County. “We need to hold everyone accountable for their cleanliness. Citizens may be the first to notice when something is wrong – and they should have the right to demand change when it is needed.”

“Marylanders overwhelmingly support clean water protections and agree we need more protection for clean water, not less,” said Del. Sara Love, who represents District 16 in Montgomery County. “Passage of this bill ensures citizens have the right to legally intervene in matters of water quality and pollution, as was originally intended by the Clean Water Act.”

In 2010, a Maryland court decision made this type of “citizen intervention” in state Clean Water Act enforcement actions virtually impossible when it refused to let five individuals and two environmental groups join a case against a polluter dumping toxic pollution into the Potomac River. Even though the five individuals were property owners living within 15 miles downstream of the source of the pollution, the court decided that the Maryland Department of the Environment covered their interests in “generally protecting the environment.”

As government enforcement becomes increasingly less reliable due to budget cuts and industry’s crusade against regulation, citizen enforcement of environmental laws is more necessary than ever. Intervention is an important function in this effort, allowing interested parties to engage in legal matters that concern them. This bill will allow Maryland communities, cities, counties, and public interest groups to have their voices heard when their local rivers and streams are illegally polluted.

View the Maryland House Bill (HB76)

View the Maryland Senate Bill (SB334)

Media Contacts:
Tom Pelton, Environmental Integrity Project, Communications Director, or (443) 510-2574
Betsy Nicholas, Waterkeepers Chesapeake, or (202) 423-0504