Engage Mountain Maryland (EMM) has teamed up with Earthjustice, a respected non-profit environmental law firm, to examine and raise questions about the proposed regulations for fracking released by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE).
EMM’s work with Earthjustice will build on its prior work to educate and engage citizens on the issue of fracking. EMM raised questions about the legitimacy of MDE's first round of proposals or “Issue Papers" that relaxed the 2015 regulations developed by former Governor Martin O’Malley. In response, EMM drafted a letter, and gathered signatures to ask for MDE to withdraw their issue papers on the grounds that they did not live up to MDE's' own mission statement to protect Maryland resident's health and safety, the economy, and the environment. The letter explained that if MDE could not adequately regulate the industry, then MDE should consider making a recommendation to disallow fracking in Maryland.
“This is far from over,” says Mark Stutzman, EMM President. “The people of Maryland deserve an explanation of how a department responsible for protecting it’s citizens' health and safety, the economy, and the environment, could think the current regulations live up to the standard set by their own department. There is so much at stake in a part of the state that has built a reputation on outdoor recreation and tranquil lifestyles.”
EMM says that MDE was unresponsive while building the regulations, so it looked as if another route were needed. This prompted contacting Earthjustice to see whether they would consider working with EMM to evaluate the regulations, which are expected to be proposed in mid-November. Earthjustice representatives traveled to Garrett County to meet with EMM board members and took a brief tour to see what was at stake should fracking be allowed in Western Maryland. Following a subsequent meeting, the law firm agreed to represent EMM and to contribute its legal expertise to formal comments that EMM is planning to submit to MDE once the regulations are proposed.
“Not only will these regulations be weaker than those proposed previously under Governor O’Malley, but they fail to give Western Marylanders even the most basic assurances that their health and livelihoods will be protected,” says Gordon Sommers, an attorney with Earthjustice. Neil Gormley, another Earthjustice attorney, explains, “we are working with EMM because it’s important that the concerns of Western Marylanders are heard. They are the people on the front lines whose health, clean drinking water, clean air, and economic opportunities are threatened by inadequate regulations for fracking.
Local business owners are joining with EMM to collaborate in protecting their businesses from the repercussions of fracking. “The hardest hit will likely be the tourism sector that relies on visitors to the area. Industrializing the landscape that is known for it’s clean air, vibrant ecology, and open roads will certainly see an economic impact once industry rolls in,” shared Eric Robison, EMM Legislative Chair. Business owners from the tourism, hospitality, and sustainable agriculture sectors have already joined the effort.
"Business owner's in the region have spent years investing around a tourist-based economy within a unique second home market, and many have expressed concerns about how this type of development would affect their investments."
Other concerns with fracking include public health impacts, air pollution, water consumption, drinking water contamination, and damage to the Maryland’s flora and fauna. Earthjustice has a long history of taking on these sorts of challenges. The firm recently succeeded in overturning federal plans to open one million acres of California public land to fracking. They also represent the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in a dispute against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers after the agency granted permits for the Dakota Access oil pipeline that threaten drinking water sources and sacred burial grounds.
Individuals and businesses who want to get involved with this effort are encouraged to do so by writing EngageMountainMaryland@gmail.org, or by visiting EngageMMD.org to learn more about this initiative.