Come January, Maryland will have a Republican governor and a Democrat attorney general. And not just any Democrat attorney general, but Brian Frosh: a longtime state senator who championed many of the Maryland’s environmental laws in the last three decades.
Already, the divisions between the policies of Frosh and the soon-to-be Repub-lican Gov. Larry Hogan appear to be stark.
Hogan has said he intends to repeal a law that required Baltimore City and the state’s largest counties to create stormwater management funds, a mechanism through which they could raise money to complete infrastructure work on aging storm drains, address flooding and plant green infrastructure.
Hogan also opposes the phosphorus management tool, a regulation that aims to reduce pollution from manure that flows into the Chesapeake Bay. He said in a recent speech that blocking the tool’s implementation would be his “first fight” in Annapolis.
Frosh voted for the stormwater fee and has long supported curbs to phosphorus. But while his heart is deeply into environmental protection, his job will be to represent the governor and the state.
At a recent luncheon where Frosh made his first public comments since his election to the office, the new attorney general acknowledged the potential for conflict.
“I don’t expect to agree with the governor on every issue,” he said. “That doesn’t mean I check my thoughts, my beliefs, my opinions at the door. I am sure the governor-elect and the Maryland Department of the Environment will not want to countenance breaking the law. I think we will have some common ground.”
As a senior senator from Montgomery County, Frosh introduced bills that became policy, such as a ban on phosphates in detergent, stiffer penalties for environmental crimes and a ban on oil drilling in the Chesapeake Bay. But as attorney general, his job won’t be to come up with new regulations. It will be to enforce the laws already on the books.
That is getting harder to do, as state budget cuts have left environmental inspectors with caseloads that are triple what they carried in years past. At MDE, for example, one inspector might have 1,100 permits on his plate, Frosh said. The workload is growing, too, especially as Maryland now regulates large livestock operations under a federal program. There are about 600 such farms in Maryland in need of the permits and only a few inspectors. At the Department of Natural Resources, the police force has been cut in half, even as the state has increased the number of oysters planted in Bay sanctuaries.
Frosh will be able to move resources around within his office, but he won’t easily be able to create more money to hire more people. He made it clear in his speech, though, that enforcement was a huge priority, and that the lack of it was a culprit in pollution just as much as the chemical and energy companies that spill contaminants into rivers and streams.
Frosh spoke of three major environmental disasters from just the last year: the chemical spill into Elk River in West Virginia that contaminated the drinking water of 300,000 people; the Dan River coal ash spill in North Carolina, and the explosion at a fertilizer plant in Texas.
“The polluters are responsible for all of these things, but each one is also a failure by government. A failure to protect,” Frosh said.
Frosh’s lecture was sponsored by the Center for Progressive Reform and the University of Maryland Carey School of Law.
It’s unclear what will happen to the stormwater law, which Frosh called “well thought out,” or to the phosphorus management tool, which he said was “something that really has to be done.” But Frosh made it clear that the Chesapeake Bay remained a priority.
“I can promise you that, as attorney general, I will do everything that I can possibly do to leverage the resources that we have to protect the Chesapeake Bay and enforce environmental laws, and I will fight like hell to protect the health and safety of all Marylanders,” he said.