Holding Polluters Accountable: A Look At the Work of Mariel Yarbrough

Headshot of Mariel Yarbrough wearing a black blazer with a cream colored wall and a U.S. flag in the background.
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Blue Water Baltimore plays a critical role in identifying pollution in our waterways and taking action to stop it.

Thanks to key provisions in the Clean Water Act that give the public the right to directly enforce against polluters, we can hold them accountable and stop pollution at its source.

There is no shortage of water pollution in Baltimore. While our Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper Angela Haren and staff scientists work hard to investigate pollution and take action, pro bono professionals are able to extend our reach as watchdogs for our waterways.

One of those professionals is Mariel Yarbrough, who worked over 100 hours to support our Waterkeeper’s efforts last year.

As a volunteer attorney through Chesapeake Legal Alliance, she played a key role in enforcement actions against polluters and advocating for more green infrastructure to reduce stormwater runoff in the City.

Her work included tracking the implementation of a settlement agreement Blue Water Baltimore entered into in 2017 with a local scrap metal company to complete a large stormwater construction project on their site to eliminate runoff laden with heavy metals .

Following the completion of the project, Blue Water Baltimore’s scientists will check data to make sure that water quality is improving and that the construction project is working effectively.

Mariel also helped our staff investigate a second industrial site that was disregarding environmental controls and sending polluted stormwater runoff into our storm drains. Our investigation led to the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE) bringing an enforcement action against the facility, issuing a fine, and compelling them to clean up their act.

Why does Blue Water Baltimore go after industrial polluters? Investigations and enforcement actions are the responsibility of the Maryland Department of the Environment. However, the Department’s limited budget, staff, and resources, coupled with thousands of facilities across the state means that there are many facilities getting away with polluting.

Blue Water Baltimore works with the Department and plays an important role by bringing an additional layer of environmental protection to the residents that rely on Baltimore’s waterways for fishing, swimming, recreation, and general ecosystem functions for a healthy environment.

In addition to enforcing existing laws, Blue Water Baltimore also advocates for changes to city and state policies. Mariel played a lead role in researching and drafting an upcoming report on ways to improve policies that support community-led green infrastructure.

Practices such as rain gardens and green roofs, have many beneficial impacts to public health and the economy. In addition to improving water quality, they beautify our city, improve air quality, prevent overheating in urban areas, build climate change resiliency, and restore wildlife habitats.

“What I like most about working with Blue Water Baltimore is the office culture of everyone working as a team, and approaching problems in a positive way; working with an interdisciplinary group – planners, scientists, engineers, lawyers – to achieve better water quality and, ultimately, a better quality of life for residents of Baltimore,” said Mariel.

“I have seen firsthand that the work Blue Water Baltimore does on a daily basis has an actual, noticeable positive impact on the city. If we keep going – we will notice a major difference in water quality. It will take patience and resources. We can’t give up – we need to keep chipping away; we have to be prepared for setbacks and not get discouraged. And we need to remember that we are part of the whole Chesapeake Bay watershed, and we all need to work together.”

Mariel, who sails in her free time and lives in Annapolis, recently started a new job at the U.S. Department of Commerce. We will always consider her a part of the Blue Water Baltimore family.

We wish Mariel Yarbrough the best of luck and are extremely grateful for her hard work and dedication to protecting and restoring our waterways. Baltimore is a better place because of her service to our community!

The legal and scientific expertise of staff provide Blue Water Baltimore with many of the tools necessary to be an effective watchdog. With the help of volunteer attorneys like Mariel, we are able to do so much more enforcement and put polluters on notice.

If you are an attorney interested in providing pro bono assistance to Blue Water Baltimore we’d love to hear from you! Contact our Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper at aharen [at] bluewaterbaltimore.org.

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