Coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel. It destroys our air, water and climate, from mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia to coal-fired power generation across Maryland. Studies have linked coal pollution to numerous health impacts, including asthma, lung cancer, heart disease, stroke and neurological damage. Scientists warn that we must keep two-thirds of remaining fossil fuels in the ground to prevent runaway climate change impacts. We simply must move off dirty coal to clean energy sources. CCAN is fighting on all fronts to move Maryland past coal. We’re pushing for stronger pollution controls in all coal mining, transport, processing and export facility permits, fighting for the strongest protections in the country on coal ash waste and finally shutting down the state’s dirtiest coal plants.
Shutting Down Dirty Coal Plant Pollution
In Maryland, six coal-fired power plants generate about 40 percent of electricity. We work to transition the state to cleaner energy alternatives to protect our residents’ health and our climate’s stability.
Retiring dirty coal plants
By forcing existing coal-fired power plants to adhere to the strictest pollution standards possible, CCAN accelerates the shutdown of some of the dirtiest polluters and helps Maryland move past coal. CCAN and the Environmental Integrity Project won a major victory to shut down the R. Paul Smith coal-fired power plant in Williamsport in September 2012. In December 2013, NRG Energy announced plans to shut down the Dickerson and Chalk Point coal-fired power plants, located in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties respectively — but the company has since gone back on this plan.
Enforcing strict pollution standards
CCAN works on strengthening and enforcing air and water pollution regulations on coal plants through permits and enforcement actions.
Coal plants have to obtain air and water pollution permits that outline minimum environmental standards for the discharge of pollution. A rigorous review process including stakeholders and community members determines these permits’ renewal every five to ten years. The state agencies issuing the permits must provide the public a meaningful opportunity to review and comment on them. They may also host a public hearing to engage face-to-face and hear concerns from impacted community members. Public participation makes a big impact on the development of a strong pollution permit, which is why CCAN helps facilitate community involvement in this process.
In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Obama Administration issued strong new rules called Effluent Limitation Guidelines (ELGs). They limited the amount of toxic emissions from coal-fired power plants that could be discharged into waterways. In 2018, the EPA under President Trump revised the compliance deadline for the rules.
Meanwhile, the permits for three Maryland coal plants were up for renewal. These included Morgantown Generating Station in Charles County, Chalk Point Generating Station in Prince George’s County and Dickerson Generating Station in Montgomery County, all owned and operated by GenOn Energy of Atlanta (except for Chalk Point, which is owned and operated by NRG). CCAN put pressure on the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE) to make the new water pollution permits as strong as possible. We turned out residents to public hearings and submitted hundreds of public comments. We called on MDE to uphold the strong limits set out by the Obama Administration rules. MDE can include these Obama-era limits on toxic pollution in the water permits the agency issues.
And we won! For all three coal plants, MDE issued water permits that were very strong. The coal plants now have to drastically reduce their release of toxic metals into the Potomac and Patuxent Rivers starting November 1, 2020. They are required to install pollution control measures that are estimated to reduce contaminants such as arsenic, mercury and selenium by up to 97 percent. As far as we know, Maryland is the only state to implement the strong limits in the Obama-era rule.
GenOn/NRG are suing MDE, asking state courts to delay the implementation of these strong permits, which will further pollute these rivers. CCAN, represented by the Environmental Integrity Project, has intervened in the lawsuit to defend MDE’s decision.
Nineteen coal plants in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia emit pollution that contributes to smog problems in Maryland. These plants’ nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions — the basis of ozone and smog — harm public health by causing or worsening asthma. They can also lead to algal blooms that harm our treasured waterways, including the Chesapeake Bay.
Uncontained out-of-state NOx pollution causes several regions in Maryland to have ozone rates that exceed federal air quality standards. MDE estimates that about 70 percent of Maryland’s ozone problem originates from emissions in upwind states.
Maryland’s attempt to work with these neighboring states on a voluntary basis failed, so we asked the EPA to intervene. In November 2016, Maryland submitted a formal petition to the EPA under section 126 of the Clean Air Act. This “Good Neighbor” petition asked the EPA to order 19 upwind coal plants to run existing NOx pollution controls properly so we can breathe cleaner air. Simply running this existing pollution control technology could result in up to 304 tons of NOx reductions in a single day.
But the EPA failed to respond to Maryland’s petition within the time period required by law. So Maryland sued the EPA to force a response, and CCAN intervened in support of Maryland’s lawsuit. Then in June 2018, the EPA announced its intent to reject our Good Neighbor Petition and formally denied the petition in October 2018. MDE is challenging the EPA’s decision to deny its petition and CCAN has intervened to support MDE’s petition.
Cleaning Up Coal Ash in Maryland
Burning coal leaves behind a toxic by-product called coal combustion waste, or what is more commonly known as “coal ash.” Coal ash contains high levels of heavy metals like arsenic, lead, and mercury and has been linked to numerous health impacts including cancer, lung disease, respiratory distress, and neurological damage. Coal ash has a history of leaching heavy metals into drinking water supplies and neighboring water bodies. This is no small problem: the EPA estimates that 140 million tons of coal ash is generated annually – the second largest industrial waste stream in the U.S.
According to a report by the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice, 91 percent of coal ash sites nationwide have unsafe levels of at least one pollutant from coal ash in the groundwater.
In Maryland, CCAN has been fighting to force the cleanup of three coal ash landfills polluting groundwater and nearby streams. These include the Brandywine landfill in Prince George’s County, the Faulkner landfill in Charles County and the Westland landfill in Montgomery County, all owned by NRG Energy, a subsidiary of GenOn. The Brandywine landfill in Prince George’s County is in the top 10 — ranked as the seventh-most-contaminated out of 265 sites across the country.
We are now working with the University of Maryland Environmental Law Clinic and other organizations to make sure the regulated coal ash sites in Maryland are complying with federal and state requirements.
Historic Settlement Holds Major Polluter Accountable for Defying the Clean Water Act
In January 2013, CCAN and our allies at Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club, and the Patuxent Riverkeeper won a three-year legal fight to force GenOn (formerly Mirant) to clean up its three coal ash landfills in Maryland, which had been cited for hundreds of violations under the Clean Water Act. Our organizations helped to negotiate one of the strongest coal ash settlement agreements in the country. GenOn has agreed to pay $2.2 million in penalties. Additionally, it will clean up its Maryland landfills to ensure they do not pollute local waterways in the future. Finally, nearby residents will get the protections they deserve from toxic coal ash pollution. To read the entire consent decree, click here.
Now, we are working to ensure that other coal plants follow suit.
If you live near a coal plant, we’d love to hear your story. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
- “Maryland Limits Coal Pollution In Potomac, Bucking Trump EPA,” WAMU, 8/22/18
- “Six U.S. states sue Trump’s EPA over interstate smog pollution rule,” Reuters, 1/31/19
- “One Of The Most Polluting Coal Ash Dumps In The U.S. Is In Maryland,” WAMU, 3/4/19
- “In Maryland, one community is taking a stand against environmental racism,” Grist, 7/27/16
- Environmental Integrity Project Report: “First Comprehensive, National Study of Coal Ash Pollution Finds Widespread Groundwater Contamination.”
- Factsheet: Exporting Coal – Exporting Climate Change: The threat of increasing coal exports from the East Coast.
- Profiles: The Costs of Coal Exports: Stories from Communities Living in the Path of Coal Export Terminals.
In March 2017, the Maryland General Assembly passed House Bill 1325, which will place a permanent ban on fracking in Maryland. The House of Delegates and the Senate both passed the bill with a bipartisan, veto-proof majority, sending it to be signed by Maryland Republican Governor Larry Hogan.
This move follows six years of organizing against the drilling practice from a grassroots movement that included farmers, doctors, students, faith leaders, environmental groups, and others. In the final year of the campaign 16 municipalities across the state passed bans, resolutions or statements of support in favor of a ban on this harmful drilling practice. During the legislative session over 600 grassroots activists lobbied in favor of a ban on hydraulic fracturing and over a 1000 people took to the streets in Annapolis for a march and rally. In the last days of the campaign, a group of 13 faith leaders and western Maryland residents were peacefully arrested in support of the fracking ban bill while it was being debated in the Senate, and one day later, Gov. Hogan reversed course to announce his support for a fracking ban.
Maryland will now become the first state in America with proven gas reserves to ban fracking by legislative action. It sets a nationally significant precedent as other states grapple with the dangerous drilling method. From Virginia (where leaders have imposed or proposed local bans at the county and municipal level) to the state of Florida (which is looking to follow Maryland’s statewide ban), the “keep-it-in-the-ground” movement is gaining new bipartisan steam. Read more here.
In neighboring states and across the nation, evidence is mounting that drilling and fracking for natural gas leads to polluted air and water, serious health problems, earthquakes and economic losses for local communities.
In Maryland, a growing grassroots movement has kept fracking at bay — for now. In the 2015 Maryland General Assembly, CCAN worked with over 70 groups in the Don’t Frack Maryland Coalition to put a 2.5 year moratorium on fracking. Thanks to thousands of email and calls, lobby, meetings, actions and more, Governor Larry Hogan let HB 449 become law on May 29th, 2015. This bill puts a hold on drilling in Maryland until October 2017.
But the gas industry began maneuvering to put fracking on the fast-track as soon as the moratorium would lift. There were over 100 groups working with the Don’t Frack Maryland Coalition to pass a ban on fracking in the 2017 General Assembly session. Our mission is to build an even more powerful grassroots movement to put a permanent, statewide ban on fracking by October 2017.
When the General Assembly came back in full-swing, our movement to ban fracking in Maryland moved at full-speed. The Maryland House of Delegates answered our movement’s call on March 10, 2017, when they passed House Bill 1325 to ban fracking with a bipartisan vote of 97-40. Just one week later in a historic move, Republican Governor Larry Hogan announced his support for a permanent statewide ban on fracking. Governor Hogan’s announcement came one day after 13 brave Marylanders were peacefully arrested outside of the State House to demand a ban on fracking. Soon after, the Senate finalized the ban on this risky drilling practice once and for all by putting Senate Bill 740 over the finish line.
Download the CCAN fracking activist toolkit: Get your city to endorse a ban on fracking.
Join the movement to ban fracking in Maryland: Email Brooke Harper at email@example.com to volunteer.
The Fracking Threat in Maryland
The science shows that fracking threatens the air we breathe and the water we drink, while also worsening climate change.
Maryland’s Garrett and Allegany Counties sit atop the Marcellus Shale gas basin and are on the front lines of potential fracking in the state. But the threat is statewide. Across Maryland, five different gas basins stretch underneath our communities and could potentially be fracked by the gas industry. For instance, the Taylorsville gas basin stretches under one-third of Prince George’s County. A Texas-based company has already leased land to frack for gas in the Virginia portion of this same basin.
In 2011, Governor O’Malley issued a temporary, three-year executive order that put a hold on drilling permits in Maryland and created a commission to assess whether or not fracking poses unacceptable risks to Marylanders. The resulting studies warned of many significant risks — especially to our health — if fracking is allowed to proceed.
Marylanders Oppose Fracking
- A 2016 OpinionWorks poll found that Maryland voters support a ban on fracking by a 2-to-1 margin.
- In Garrett County, a prime target area for the oil and gas industry, the margin of support is more than 2-to-1, with 57% in support of a fracking ban and only 27% opposed.
- The latest Washington Post poll found that a similarly strong majority of Marylanders — 60 percent — oppose fracking.
The Facts on Fracking
Fracking is a dangerous drilling method used to extract natural gas from shale rock. It involves drilling “L”-shaped pipelines deep underground and pumping a mixture of water, sand and toxic chemicals through them at high pressures to crack apart the rock and release gas packed within. (The chemicals used in fracking include benzene, xylene and toluene, all of which are known carcinogens.) Significant volumes of fracking fluid come back up to the surface loaded with heavy metals, toxic chemicals, and radioactive materials. This hazardous wastewater poses an enormous disposal challenge and the toxic chemicals in fracking fluid threaten to leach into our drinking water. The industrial well pads, machinery and truck traffic that come along with the drilling process disrupt rural towns, straining infrastructure, clogging roads, and adding to noise and air pollution.
The evidence is mounting showing fracking is dangerous to our health. Especially concerning, researchers are finding associations between proximity to oil and gas development and increases in birth defects and other adverse birth outcomes. Because some effects may take years to show up, the nature and the severity of the long-term, cumulative health impacts of fracking and drilling are still unknown.
Fracking is a statewide threat in Maryland. The Marcellus Shale is probably the best known gas basin in the nation. It’s an enormous underground rock formation that spans areas from New York to Virginia, including Maryland’s Garrett and Allegany counties. But that’s not all: Maryland sits atop not one, but five gas basins that the natural gas industry could frack.
Over 100 groups (and counting) in Maryland added their names to a position statement calling for a ban on fracking – from climate groups like CCAN, to river keepers, outfitters, service unions, public interest organizations, health groups, farmers and faith groups.
And local opposition to fracking was widespread across Maryland:
- Montgomery County and Prince George’s County, which together represent over a third of Maryland’s population, have effectively banned fracking.
- The Frostburg City Council, which represents the largest municipality in western Maryland, voted unanimously to approve two measures designed to protect local water supplies from the toxic drilling practice, including a ban in city-owned property in Garrett County.
- The Garrett County towns of Friendsville and Mountain Lake Park also banned fracking.
- Councilmembers in Anne Arundel and Frederick Counties have called for a statewide ban
- The Baltimore County Council passed a resolution urging a statewide ban on fracking.
- Read the full language of the House and Senate bills to ban fracking: House Bill 1325 // Senate Bill 740, February 2017
- CCAN Statewide Fracking Ban Factsheet, CCAN
- The Risks to Maryland, CCAN, February 2014
- Fact sheet: U.S. Methane Leakage from Natural Gas Systems: Academic Literature from 2014 and 2015.
- OpinionWorks poll and infographic: 68 percent of Marylanders want the General Assembly to put a hold on fracking.
- The Risks to Maryland: Read the summary of an independent analysis showing fracking poses high risks to Maryland.
- Read the full Shale Gas Risk Assessment for Maryland (PDF).
- Map of Maryland’s Gas Basins
- Learn more about methane from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
- “Maryland just passed a fracking ban. I’m weeping,” CCAN blog, 3/28/17
- “Governor [Hogan] calls for ban on fracking in Maryland, The Washington Post, 3/17/17.
- “Anti-fracking activists arrested for blocking entrance to Md. State House,” The Washington Post, 3/16/17.
- “Maryland House overwhelmingly approves bill to ban fracking,” ThinkProgress, 3/10/17
- “Activists push for ban on fracking in Maryland,” The Baltimore Sun, 3/2/17.
- “As Maryland lawmakers consider fracking rules, advocates ready to fight for permanent ban,” The Baltimore Sun, 12/20/16.
- “As MD’s Fracking Moratorium Expires, Lawmakers Plan a Ban,” WYPR. 11/8/16.
- “The EPA Once Said Fracking Did Not Cause Widespread Water Contamination. Not Anymore,” InsideClimate News, 12/14/16
- “Thank you Prince George’s County for banning fracking! The movement against fracking in Maryland is growing,” CCAN Blog. 4/12/2016.
- “Unconventional Natural Gas Development and Birth Outcomes in Pennsylvania, USA,” Wolters Kluwer Health, 9/30/2015.
- “Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking,” Physicians for Social Responsibility, 10/14/2015.