Victory for Clean Water

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A high-speed train line has been proposed from Washington DC to New York City. The train would use magnetic elevated rail cars which would travel at speeds over 100 mph. This is the same technology as the Japanese bullet train. 

The first leg of the project would run from DC to Baltimore. As part of the permitting process, Baltimore Washington Rapid Rail (BWRR) asked the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to certify that the rail line and associated structures will not harm Tier II waters of the state. These are high quality waters that must be protected from degradation under Maryland law and the federal Clean Water Act, Section 401. 

Early in the summer of 2023, Maryland Coalition for Responsible Transit (MCRT), a local citizens group, asked the clinic to assist its pro bono attorney in drafting comments evaluating BWRR’s water quality certification request.  Although it was summer break, Hannah Klaus a member of the Fall ELC agreed to provide legal research and analysis to the lead attorney. However, later in the summer that attorney withdrew, and Hannah became the de facto lead counsel, a tall order for someone who had never evaluated a water quality certification before! 

To assist her, Hannah enlisted a UMD graduate student to prepare GIS maps of the train’s proposed path and the watersheds it would affect. She also worked with a scientist from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to understand the intricacies of Maryland’s water quality laws and the science used to evaluate whether local waters could “assimilate” the polluted runoff expected from the rail line and train repair buildings. 

In November, MCRT submitted a 400-page comment package to MDE opposing the certification. MCRT’s comments included Hannah’s assessment of how the proposed location of the rail line and buildings would harm Tier II waters of the state in violation of the CWA. Following up on some of the comments, MDE asked BWRR to supplement its application with further information. Hannah and MCRT reviewed BWRR’s supplemental information and submitted additional comments to MDE. On December 22, MDE advised BWRR that it would not approve the water quality certification. Subsequently, BWRR withdrew its application. 

Although the rail line is free to submit a new application, the project is on hold.  A solid victory for clean water!