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State Environmental Law Preempts a County Zoning Ordinance

East Star, LLC v. The County Commissioners of Queen Anne’s County
No. 2616 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. March 1, 2012)

by Gregory L. Arbogast, Associate
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (

In East Star, LLC v. The County Commissioners of Queen Anne’s County, the Court of Special Appeals held that state environmental law preempted a zoning ordinance adopted by Queen Anne’s County, which regulated mining. The trial court found in favor of the County, but the Court of Special Appeals reversed and found that the State of Maryland sufficiently regulated the area of mining to impliedly preempt all county ordinances.

East Star, LLC arose out of a zoning ordinance adopted by Queen Anne’s County, which regulated the size and duration of mining. Specifically, the zoning ordinance stated that mines over twenty (20) acres could only grow in increments of twenty (20) additional acres and the mines could only have a duration of five (5) years, unless they received approval for an additional five (5) years. Chapter 8, Title 15 of the Environmental Article of the State Code also regulated mining, though its requirements were not as strict as the Queen Anne’s County ordinance.

In response to the mining ordinance, East Star, LLC (“East Star”) filed a declaratory judgment action seeking a declaration from the Circuit Court for Queen Anne’s County that Maryland environmental law preempts county zoning ordinances with respect to mining. The Court, however, ruled in favor of Queen Anne’s County and found that Maryland environmental law did not preempt the ordinance. East Star appealed to the Court of Special Appeals.

The Court of Special Appeals assessed whether Maryland’s environmental law preempts Queen Anne’s County’s zoning ordinance. State law can explicitly or implicitly preempt local ordinances. The only allegation in this case is that state law implicitly preempted the local ordinance. State law implicitly preempts local ordinances when the Legislature intended to occupy an entire area of law. Factors to consider are: (1) whether the laws are of the same subject matter; (2) whether there is extensive regulatory rules in the area; (3) whether the area is traditionally one localities regulate; (4) whether the Legislature expressly permitted concurrent regulation; (5) whether there is a state agency responsible for regulating the field; (6) whether the local regulation has been addressed in the state law; and (7) whether local regulation would engender chaos.

The Court of Special Appeals held that Maryland’s environmental law preempts the county ordinance. The Court found that the State of Maryland already regulated the entire field of mining; and therefore, it implicitly preempted local law. Moreover, the Maryland Department of the Environment is charged with regulating the mining industry, further evidencing the State of Maryland’s intent to preempt local ordinances.