Volume V, Number 2
eMDE is a quarterly publication of the Maryland Department of the Environment. It covers articles on current environmental issues and events in the state.
A revised framework for enforcing noise standards is designed to lead to swift responses to complaints.
Under House Bill 190, which was signed into law by Governor O’Malley, enforcement authority for state noise pollution standards will rest with local governments starting Oct. 1. This approach mirrors the delegation agreements MDE has had with some local governments – and is designed to allow citizen noise complaints to be addressed more efficiently and cost-effectively.
A 1974 Maryland law set statewide environmental noise standards and established MDE’s predecessor, the Office of Environmental Programs in the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, as the lead for implementing and enforcing noise standards. It also allowed for local jurisdictions to adopt noise control ordinances, rules or regulations and established committees to review noise controls and consider revisions.
Historically, MDE had an inspector on staff to respond to and investigate noise complaints. In 2004, legislative action defunded MDE’s noise control program, limiting the Department’s enforcement capability. MDE then provided local governments with limited technical support and training to enforce the state noise standards. MDE also entered into delegation agreements with Anne Arundel and Harford counties, providing those jurisdictions with full enforcement authority.
Local governments can respond to noise complaints more rapidly than a state agency. Police or other local government agencies can enforce standards. And local jurisdictions, through planning and zoning provisions, can help prevent noise conflicts from arising. As a result, MDE worked with the General Assembly this year to legally transfer noise enforcement authority to local governments statewide.
The 2012 noise legislation retains Maryland’s noise standards. Those standards set limits based on land use and time of day. For instance, the daytime limit for residential areas is 65 decibels.
Maximum Allowable Noise Levels (dBA)for Receiving Land Use Categories
The regulation exempts such activities as lawn care, snow removal and the normal use of household tools during the day.
The new law also retains MDE’s authority for updating these standards using current scientific and public health data. Local governments no longer need a formal delegation agreement from MDE and may adopt noise standards at least as stringent as existing standards. The law abolishes the state-level noise council and committee that had outlived their purpose.
The changes to Maryland statute are designed to allow citizen noise complaints to be more efficiently and cost-effectively addressed. MDE plans to conduct statewide outreach this summer and continue to provide local jurisdictions with limited technical support and training. Sound measurements and documentation are critical for resolving noise complaints. Citizens can assist during this transition by contacting their local leaders regarding the public health benefit of noise standard enforcement.
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