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Federal court strikes down Baltimore Clean Air Act

Wheelabrator, NWRA initially filed lawsuit against the city for the Baltimore Clean Air Act.


The U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland struck down the Baltimore Clean Air Act on March 27, and the court ruled that the requirements in the ordinance conflicted with existing federal and state laws and regulations. 

According to a news release from Arlington, Virginia-based National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA), Wheelabrator Baltimore L.P., a waste-to-energy facility located in Baltimore, and Curtis Bay Energy L.P., a medical waste incinerator in Maryland, brought this action along with the NWRA as well as the Energy Recovery Council, Washington, and TMS Hauling LLC, Baltimore, to invalidate Baltimore’s attempt to force the closure of the Wheelabrator and Curtis Bay facilities through the imposition of extraordinary emission limits and operational requirements that Baltimore had no power to impose. The initial lawsuit was filed in May 2019.

“NWRA is pleased with the court’s decision. We agree with Judge [George] Russell’s view that state and federal regulations already in place protect the public’s health and that allowing the Baltimore City Council to replace those state and federal regulations with its own ordinance is not in alignment with spirit of those existing state and federal regulations,” says NWRA President and CEO Darrell Smith. 

“We thank Judge Russell for issuing his ruling on the key preemption issues in an expeditious manner given the September 2020 deadlines for implementation of the Baltimore Clean Air Act that would have forced the closure, at least temporarily, of the Wheelabrator Baltimore facility,” says Jim Riley, NWRA’s chief counsel and senior vice president for government affairs. “Baltimore’s attempt to do this disregarded nearly 50 years of federal and state primacy in directing a uniform system to regulate air pollution and imposed unprecedented emission limits that lacked scientific, technical or factual bases.” 

The emission limits and other requirements of the Baltimore ordinance directly conflicted with the emission limits and provisions in the Federal Clean Air Act, EPA’s regulations and the Title V operating permits granted to Wheelabrator and Curtis Bay, NWRA reports. Additionally, the ordinance criminalized conduct allowed under federal law and, as the ordinance’s sponsor admitted, was passed with the intent to shut down these facilities under the guise of regulation.