BALTIMORE — Attorney General Brian Frosh filed notice April 12 that the state would seek an appeal of the lower court decision in Montgomery County that reversed the 2020 Clean Water Act discharge permit issued by the Maryland Department of the Environment. The notice allows the state to move forward with a legal challenge that could ultimately be argued before the high court.
“We appreciate the Attorney General’s support in seeking to clarify the scope of our permit after the lower court’s decision,” said Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles. “Maryland continues to be a national leader on environmental compliance and regulation. We are committed to advancing the science, stewardship and conservation practices that seek to reduce pollution from poultry houses. We are also committed to regulatory certainty in the wake of the unprecedented ruling in the lower court.”
MDE’s Animal Feeding Operations division helps protect the Chesapeake Bay, local waterways, and drinking water from nutrients from the state’s largest agricultural animal operations. The program’s effectiveness has been noted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Last year, MDE reissued its Clean Water Act discharge permit to control water pollution from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, often referred to as CAFOs. A petition for judicial review contended MDE was required to include in the permit limits to control gaseous ammonia emissions from chicken houses that may deposit in local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay. In March, a Montgomery County Circuit judge issued a ruling that reversed MDE’s final determination to issue the permit and remanded it to MDE to “mandate effluent limitations for ammonia and other water quality based effluent limitations.”
In Maryland’s more than 30-year history of issuing discharge permits, MDE has been consistent in its interpretation of federal and state law, regulating air emissions under Clean Air Act permits and not Clean Water Act discharge permits. Under the Montgomery County Circuit Court ruling, MDE could be required to issue discharge permits for a broad variety of activities that generate air emissions, such as vehicles, landfills and power plants, and could be required to modify existing discharge permits for facilities such as wastewater treatment plants.
Delmarva Chicken Association Executive Director Holly Porter said, “This appeal is good news for farmers who raise chickens, cows, pigs and other animals, and good news for millions of families who rely on those family farmers to provide food for them. We look forward to a fair-minded judicial review of a lone judge’s decision to strike down the EPA-approved Maryland AFO permit. This appeal will provide an opportunity to correct the unjustified, sudden insertion of air emissions regulations into a water quality permit.
“Delmarva Chicken Association will take every possible opportunity to inform the higher court how well this science-based permit will work for all the Marylanders, including farmers and chicken growers, who are committed to protecting environmental quality.”