How the Environmental Human Rights Amendment Could Be Used to Address Pollution from Landfills

Quarantine Road Landfill, located in Curtis Bay, harbors some pretty harmful things. Like plastic waste ash from the BRESCO Incinerator, waste oil, and sludge. In addition to the harm caused when these materials leak into groundwater, the landfill also releases harmful methane gas. As do other landfills across the state. And it is worse than we knew. According to the Environmental Integrity Project’s latest report “Maryland’s municipal waste landfills release far more greenhouse gases than was previously thought, making these landfills the single largest source of methane pollution in Maryland, even larger than the natural gas industry.“ Methane Gas in Maryland Landfills: Underestimated and Unregulated

“EIP’s analysis found that, in addition to methane, Maryland’s municipal waste landfills also emitted about 500,000 tons of carbon dioxide, which is about four times more than the official state estimate of 136,000 tons. Considering methane and carbon dioxide emissions together, the state’s landfills released as much greenhouse gas pollution as about 975,000 passenger vehicles driving for one year, or the equivalent of about 4.9 million tons of carbon dioxide, if the global warming impact of the methane is considered over a 20-year period.“

So let’s consider the impact of the Quarantine Road landfill in Baltimore City. This urban landfill  is concentrating waste pollution in the Curtis Bay neighborhood as well as creating a significant amount of methane that “contributes to the formation of ground-level ozone, a human health hazard and greenhouse gas in its own right.” According to the EIP report, Baltimore City’s Quarantine Road Landfill emitted the third highest levels of greenhouse gases among Maryland landfills  —30,344 tons of carbon dioxide and 4,595 tons of methane. That has the same greenhouse gas impact of 425,548 tons of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. 

How could the Constitutional Amendment for Environmental Human Rights Help?

The proposed Constitutional Amendment for Environmental Human Rights could help address this wrong. It would allow residents who are negatively affected by the Quarantine landfill or the other Maryalnd landfills to take action to protect themselves by invoking the right to a healthful environment and hold the state accountable. As constitutional guardians of our public natural resources, Maryland officials would be constitutionally obligated to protect the environment and its impact on the health of residents. In the case of the landfills, the state has not required all Maryland landfills to have working gas collection or control systems to ensure compliance with government standards, which would help protect the residents who live near these facilities and the airshed overall.  

This is just one example, among many, that points to the need to reset our priorities in Maryland. A healthful environment isn’t a privilege, it is a human right. The proposed Constitutional Amendment for Environmental Human Rights would protect our human right to clean air, water, land and a stable climate in the Bill of Rights section of our state constitution. It would provide the legal impetus to pass new environmental legislation to address specific issues like preventing cumulative impacts of harm, for neighborhoods like Curtis Bay, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the state of Maryland. The proposed amendment is a tool for both the people to hold government accountable and for the government to use to protect Maryland’s public natural resources from degradation and harm.   

We depend on clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, healthy soil to grow food, and a stable climate for current and future generations. Join us in advocating to protect this right to a healthful environment. MDEHR is offering ambassador training in September and October. Learn more here. Sign up for email updates and follow MDEHR on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube