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In re In re Little Patuxent Wastewater Treatment Plan

Citation: 17 ELR 20462
No. No. 85-362, (Md. Cir. Ct., 09/24/1986)

The court holds that the decision of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) to renew a wastewater discharge permit for Howard County's Little Patuxent Wastewater Treatment Plant that increases its discharge and does not set effluent standards for nitrogen was not supported by substantial evidence. The court therefore modifies the permit to prohibit any increase in the discharge of nitrogen. The court first surveys the evidence of the effects of treated wastewater, particularly increased nitrogen, on the aquatic ecosystem that was presented to DHMH, and concludes that the Department's decision to increase wastewater discharges without setting effluent standards for nitrogen is not supported by substantial evidence. The court holds as illogical and arbitrary DHMH's grounding of its decision on the scientific uncertainty regarding the effects of wastewater on nutrient dynamics in the Patuxent River Basin and methods of nitrogen removal. The court holds that a state of uncertainty does not constitute a reasonable justification for the decision, especially since the Department has a duty to remedy eutrophic water conditions by setting effluent standards. The court also holds that the evidence presented DHMH in fact supports the conclusion that nitrogen removal is feasible and necessary for the protection of the Patuxent's water quality. The court therefore holds that DHMH's decision was arbitrary and unsupported by the evidence, despite facial compliance with § 9-212 of the Maryland Health and Environmental Code. The decision was also rendered arbitrary by the fact that a decision had been made to approve the permit long before opposing views had been solicited. The court further holds that § 10-215 of the Maryland State Government Code required DHMH to consider relevant new evidence from the Environmental Protection Agency and other sources regarding wastewater discharges on the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay and environs with respect to the impact of nitrogen and the feasibility of its removal, and that the failure to do so was arbitrary under the section. The court orders the Department to consider the new evidence on remand and modifies the permit to prohibit any increased discharge of nitrogen.

Counsel for Appellants
William D. Johnston III
Staas & Halsey
1825 K St. NW, Washington DC 20006
(202) 628-5197

Daniel P. Sheridan
Prince Frederick MD 20678
(301) 535-1070

Diane D. Donahue
P.O. Box 635, California MD 20619

Counsel for Respondents
Marc K. Cohen, Ass't Attorney General
300 W. Preston St., Baltimore MD 21201
(301) 539-2940

Richard J. Magid
Whiteford, Taylor & Preston
Seven Saint Paul St., Baltimore MD 21202
(301) 347-8700