The Right To Breathe: Baltimore’s Clean Air Act struck down

I was deeply disappointed to learn that on March 27, 2020, U.S. District Judge George L. Russell III of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland ruled against the Baltimore Clean Air Act that was signed into law on March 7, 2019. Judge Russell stated that, “allowing a local government to step over Federal and State decisions would ‘undermine’ the Federal Clean Air Act.”

This is simply not true.

The purpose of the Baltimore Clean Air Act is to require the city’s largest air polluters to adhere to national standards or be shut down. Over the past several decades, Baltimore City’s District 10 has been home to two waste incinerators, which are currently in operation, two landfills, and an over-saturation of industrial polluters which has created poor air quality and other unfavorable climate change. In fact, in 2013, our district would have been home to a new trash-burning incinerator if it wasn’t for the courageous efforts of the Free Your Voice group which almost single-handedly stopped the would-be polluters in their tracks. Community leaders, including myself, united with them in solidarity to make sure that a new incinerator would not be built in Curtis Bay.

Under my leadership, Harbor West Collaborative joined a coalition of more than 20 local community groups to support Baltimore City Council Ordinance 18-0306. That same year, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America reported Baltimore as the 33rd worst Asthma Capital in the nation and just last year, we moved to 19th place.

I, along with countless advocates and community organizations have worked tirelessly on protecting environmental injustices in our city. Since 2013, I worked to protect neighborhoods such as Morrell Park, Mount Winans, Westport and dozens of others against freight trains carrying potentially explosive DOT-111 crude oil by rail through our neighborhoods, working to stop crude oil terminals from being built in our city to protect residential neighborhoods like mine that are still intermixed with moderate to heavy industrial zoning and most recently, the Baltimore Clean Air Act.

If the 4th Circuit Court finds that we do not have the right as a City to protect our citizens, as your councilwoman, I will work with our legislators in Annapolis and State agencies to secure our right to do so. We are a City with unique challenges and the State should recognize the need for additional scrutiny of polluters at the local level.

I will be reaching out to Acting City Solicitor Dana Peterson Moore to urge her to take action by submitting an appeal on behalf of the City of Baltimore to the Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.

Had the Federal Clean Air Act of 1969 been as effective as it promised to be, some of our family members and friends in the once-thriving Fairfield, Hawkins Point, and Wagner’s Point neighborhoods may not have been displaced in the 1980s and 1990s or worse, died from respiratory-related diseases.

As the largest contributor of the state economy, Baltimore should be able to regulate waste and protect its citizens. I will continue to fight with you to ensure that District 10 will no longer serve as the City’s dumping ground for businesses not desired in other neighborhoods. I see a better future for us, and I know that together, we can build a better Baltimore.

Keisha Allen is a Westport resident and a Baltimore City Council Candidate for District 10.

Photo by Mike Mccaffrey / Courtesy Creative Commons

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