Citizen Enforcement: Preventing Sediment Pollution One Construction Site at a Time

This post originally appeared on the Center for Progressive Reform’s Blog on July 15, 2014: https://www.towncreekfdn.org//www.progressivereform.org/CPRBlog.cfm?idBlog=3A431B61-9E6E-DA18-17184C8108DA344D

 

I will never look at a construction site the same way again.

Certain types of pollution—mostly sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorus—run into the Chesapeake Bay and fuel algal blooms, creating dead zones where crabs, oysters and other Bay life cannot survive. Indeed, the Chesapeake is on track to have an above-average dead zone this year.

Construction sites are a major source of sediment runoff. When mud washes from a single construction site, it can damage three miles of downstream waters. Recovery can take up to a century. Maryland has rules that construction companies are supposed to follow to minimize runoff. These rules pay off: For every dollar spent keeping mud onsite, taxpayers save $100 or more in damages avoided.

That’s why I spent last Wednesday driving around Baltimore with four others checking to see whether constructions sites were following the rules.

I learned that the most effective measure to prevent runoff is to quickly get disturbed soil under a dense blanket of straw mulch, then grass. Other measures, like the black fences you see at most construction sites, can’t keep enough mud on the site to prevent pollution. Simply put, exposed soil equals pollution. Whenever you see exposed soil on a construction site, pollution will occur come the next rain.

Under Maryland law, to begin work at a construction site, a contractor must first clear only a narrow strip alongUntitled the downslope edge of the site’s perimeter. Within this swath, the contractor installs a fence to capture runoff and deliver it to traps also built within the perimeter swath. These fences and ponds, however, trap less than half the mud. Once fences are installed, the perimeter must then be mulched and seeded within three days [COMAR 26.17.10.07B(f)(i)]. If the mulch blows away, the contractor must re-mulch. If the grass doesn’t reach 95 percent coverage within eight weeks, the contractor must reseed.

Once the perimeter is stabilized, the contractor can start work on the interior of the site. The company uses bulldozers to level the ground so construction can begin. Once the ground is level, known as “rough grade,” the contractor has up to seven days to stabilize all exposed soils. Paved areas are considered stabilized; all other “erodible” (i.e., non-paved) areas must be mulched and seeded.

The only way to determine that contractors are properly stabilizing construction sites is to go out and take a look. Government agencies, in this case the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), are tasked with inspecting sites like these, but MDE has gradually lost funding and staff while its responsibilities have increased dramatically. When writing environmental laws, Congress envisioned a strong role for citizens—Congress placed citizen suit provisions in virtually all of the federal environmental statutes, for example, enabling citizens to “stand in the shoes” of regulatory authorities and bring suit to enforce the law. Citizen enforcement is vital when bureaucracies stumble or polluters skirt the law.

The tour of construction sites I took last week is true citizen enforcement. Our knowledgeable guide, Richard Klein who leads Community & Environmental Defense Services, made the process easy by preparing a simple questionnaire for us to fill out. We visited 11 sites over the course of three hours. The result? About two of the 11 were even remotely stable. Not an unusual result, according to Richard who has tracked this problem for years.

In addition to Baltimore City, Richard is leading tours of Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford, and Howard counties. With the help of volunteers, he’ll compile data on hundreds of construction sites across Maryland. He encourages the volunteers to write thank-you letters to construction companies that are following the rules and letters encouraging companies without proper stabilization to do better.

Richard’s overall goal is to provide the public support needed to bring all jurisdictions up to the point of full compliance with the stabilization law. After surveying the counties, he’ll send the data he and the volunteers compile to the MDE. By showing MDE that citizens strongly support the agency’s efforts to inspect construction sites and take enforcement actions when necessary, he aims to channel this public support into getting enforcement agencies the resources and political backing needed to maximize compliance.

You can learn more about the tours and report a violation through Richard’s website. Another great way to track pollution is through the just-released Water Reporter app, a crowd sourced, interactive app that allows citizens to share information and flag pollution problems in their communities.

Anne Havemann, Policy Analyst, Center for Progressive Reform

 

Anne_HavemannAnne Havemann, J.D., is a CPR Policy Analyst. She joined the organization in 2013 to work on its Chesapeake Bay program area.

Havemann has nearly a decade of experience working on environmental issues at the regional and national scale. From 2005 to 2010, she was the communications director for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, a nonprofit organization working on clean energy issues in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. She focused on the Clean Water Act during clerkships with U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) and at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Her article on debarring BP in the wake of the 2010 oil spill, co-authored with CPR president Rena Steinzor, appears in the William & Mary Environmental Law and Policy Review. Her second article, which won the Joseph Bernstein prize and was published in the Maryland Law Review, considers whether Maryland’s renewable energy laws violate the dormant Commerce Clause.

Ms. Havemann received a B.A. in environmental science from Colorado College in 2004. She received her law degree with a certificate in environmental law from the University of Maryland Carey School of Law in 2013, where she graduated magna cum laude. While at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law, she was editor in chief of the Maryland Law Review. In that position, she hosted a symposium in conjunction with CPR that brought together scholars from the environmental and financial fields to discuss regulatory enforcement. She is a member of Order of the Coif and a recipient of the Alumni Association Award for contributing most largely to the law school through her character and leadership.

Contact Information:
202.747.0698

Email: ahavemann@progressivereform.org

Has Exhaustion Hurt Our Advocacy Efforts?

In our world of metrics and indicators are we missing something?

When we talk about the obstacles to transformative success (for whatever issue that may be) we talk about things like political power and corporate control.  We do not usually talk about the role personal exhaustion plays in success.  I recently came across a Huffington Post article on ending burnout in social change movements and our inability to build a thriving future on a platform of exhaustion.  Which got my wheels turning a bit.

Has exhaustion and burnout impacted the advocacy community in Maryland – specifically that of the environmental community?  Can exhaustion be linked to to the lack of success on bay and climate efforts?

“Overwork is a near-pandemic amidst people who are devoted to making the world better, whether you’re paid or volunteer, an organizer, educator, artist, entrepreneur or any other kind of change-maker.

It’s the conversation we’re not having, and we need to.”

I completely get where the author is coming from.  Advocacy work does not fit into a neat little 9-5 box.  Exhaustion can result in poor work performance and ill-planned campaigns.  I would easily wager that exhaustion in advocacy has risen with the evolution of the internet, wifi, and smart devices.

Is the exhaustion the author discusses a baseline exhaustion that has always existed in nonprofit work or is this a new level of exhaustion from our inability to disconnect from work?  Or, as I suspect, is it exhaustion derivative from decades of the same lax-luster campaign plans and voluntary efforts?

“The world does not need your 13th or 14th or 15th hour each day. It does not need more email blasts or campaign plans written with bleary eyes.”  

The above statement is very true, but I would add that the world does not need your 13th or 14th or 15th poorly planned email that is a part of an equally as poor strategy.  It is understandable to me how movement burnout could result from decades of the same voluntary approach and groups silo-ing themselves.  These strategies do not produce the desired end goal and just compound one another as organizations continue to apply them over and over in hopes something will change.

I believe burnout is a side effect of continuing to engage in the same ill-producing strategies and the lack of transformative success.  I think this is what we have seen in Maryland.  The tides do seem to be turning though.  Groups are becoming more cognizant of diversifying their alliances and breaking their silos.  Strategies are evolving and strengthening, but it is a slow process and will take time to permanently separate from the same lax-luster strategies we have been deploying for decades.

In a commencement speech given this year, Jim Carrey addressed the graduating class and shared “I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which, was that you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.”  I could not agree more with this statement.  If you put your energy into the same strategies that have been ill-producing for decades and lax-luster at best, you will be successful, but only in producing the chronic exhaustion the author attributes to the lack of transformative success.  I firmly believe in doing what you love, but you must take a 30k foot view to understand if what you are doing will ultimately achieve your end goal.  If not, re-strategize and change course so as not to fall into the rut of exhaustion and underperformance.