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EPA and Its Sisters at 30: Devolution, Revolution, or Reform?

September 2001

Citation: 31 ELR 11086

Issue: 9

Author: Rena I. Steinzor

A Cautionary Tale

Let us begin with a cautionary and, unfortunately, true tale. The Bethlehem Steel facility at Sparrow's Point, Maryland, is among the largest integrated steel mills in the country, with multiple production lines and a new $ 300 million, state-of-the-art cold rolling mill.1 With a capacity of 3.7 million tons of steel annually, the plant is a classic "Rust Belt" employer, anchoring Maryland's economy with some 4,000 unionized jobs.2

The plant is also the 48th largest discharger of toxic metals to surface waters in the nation, and the second largest discharger of persistent toxic metals to the Chesapeake Bay, with 43,150 pounds reported in the 1997 toxic release inventory (TRI).3 Its effluent travels from the Patapsco River to the Baltimore Harbor and from there to the Chesapeake Bay. The Baltimore Harbor is one of three "toxic hot spots" afflicting the Chesapeake Bay.4 The Baltimore Harbor is considered a sufficiently serious threat to the Chesapeake Bay that the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) has announced plans to issue new, more stringent, water quality-based standards, or total maximum daily loads (TMDLs), for toxic substances.5

The author is Professor of Law and Co-Director, Environmental Law Clinic, University of Maryland School of Law. This piece is dedicated to my wonderful students, clients, and colleagues: Catherine DeLorey, Melanie Flynn, Terry Harris, Rose Hindla, James Lichty, Jacqueline Savitz, Daniel Smith, Steven Solow, Katherine Squibb, and Wade Wilson, who followed every tortuous twist of the Bethlehem Steel permit dispute to discover the truth. I am also grateful to participants in the conference at which this piece was first presented: "EPA at Thirty: Evaluating and Improving the Environmental Protection Agency," held at Duke Law School on Dec. 7-8, 2000, and especially to the organizers of that meeting, Richard Lazarus, Robert Percival, and Christopher Schroeder. Thanks also to Eileen Gauna and Robert Kuehn for their comments and encouragement, and to Jessica Stuart for research assistance.

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