Public Health and Environmental Groups Announce Intent to Take Gov. Hogan to Court for Unlawfully Blocking Clean Air Protections

Unlawful actions on his first day in office put the five million Marylanders who live in areas designated as having unhealthy levels of smog at more risk


Phillip Ellis, Earthjustice, (202) 745-5221

Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility and Sierra Club represented by Earthjustice announced today that they will hold Governor Hogan, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) and the Maryland Division of State Documents accountable for failing to implement new clean air protections to clean up coal-fired power plants that had been finalized and adopted prior to Gov. Hogan taking office. The public health and environmental groups submitted a 30-day notice of their intent to file a lawsuit today, as mandated under Maryland law, to require the publication and enforcement of the adopted clean air protections.

Currently, five million Marylanders live in areas that have been designated as having unhealthy levels of smog in the air. The clean air protections at issue would reduce smog in areas including Baltimore and surrounding counties which were assigned the worst smog designation east of the Mississippi River by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The safeguards would reduce pollution by requiring coal-fired power plants in Maryland to install and use the same types of modern pollution controls that are more prevalent on coal plants in states throughout the country, including traditional coal states such as West Virginia, Alabama and Kentucky. Less than half of the coal units in Maryland are equipped with such modern controls.

Doris Toles, who lives in Baltimore and has chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder and asthma, said, “Smog pollution puts me at risk, and at a disadvantage. Whatever I do and wherever I go, I have to measure and calculate what kind of activities I can engage in due to Baltimore’s poor air quality. Cleaning up pollution from coal plants will help people like me stay alive. I pray that Gov. Hogan will finally unblock these actions.”

“This rule would have resulted in fewer new cases of asthma in children, fewer heart attacks in adults and fewer deaths from respiratory illness. It would have allowed those suffering from this pollution to breathe a little easier,” said Gwen DuBois, an internist at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore, a member of the board of Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility, and a member of the public health committee of The Maryland State Medical Society.

After a lengthy stakeholder process that garnered the support of public health advocates, Maryland’s independent air quality advisory council, The Maryland State Medical Society and the owner of three large coal plants in the state, the MDE finalized the standards known as the nitrogen oxide (NOx) Reasonably Available Control Technology (RACT) rule. That rule was adopted by the agency on January 16, 2015 and submitted that same day for publication in the Maryland Register.

On Gov. Hogan’s first day in office, however, he issued a directive to the Division of State Documents blocking publication of the rule. In their 30-day notice of intent to sue letter, Sierra Club and PSR make clear that the Governor lacked the authority to block these safeguards, and that the Division of State Documents is legally required to publish the rule so that it can be enforced.

“By blocking these critical public health protections, Gov. Hogan has acted contrary to both public opinion and the law,” said Shannon Fisk, Managing Attorney at Earthjustice. “We urge the Governor to allow these protections to be published and enforced, and stand ready to take appropriate legal action if he fails to do so.” 

On Friday, Gov. Hogan’s MDE announced a plan to move forward with a dramatically weakened version of the regulations through a non-public “emergency” rulemaking process.
“Gov. Hogan’s attempt to circumvent public opinion and a public process by ramming through weakened ‘emergency’ regulations while blocking lawfully enacted public health protections is unlawful and a disservice to Marylanders. These protections are critical for public health, and provide the time and flexibility for Maryland businesses to make the best decisions for the future of their operations,” said Josh Tulkin, Executive Director of the Maryland Sierra Club. “The safeguards that Hogan are trying to gut say, simply, ‘if you’re going to burn coal in Maryland, you need to install and run modern pollution controls by the end of the decade for the sake of our health.’ With today’s suit we are acting in the interest of all Marylanders, to make sure they can breathe healthier air.”

A hazy view of Baltimore.
A hazy view of Baltimore. The clean air protections at issue would reduce smog in areas including Baltimore and surrounding counties, which were assigned the worst smog designation east of the Mississippi River by the EPA. (Urbanfeel / Flickr)

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