Ask anyone around the country about their image of Maryland and chances are their response will be something about the Chesapeake Bay – crab cakes or otherwise. The Bay is our brand and there is wide consensus that protecting and improving the Bay’s water quality is essential to preserving the quality of life here in the “Land of Pleasant Living.” Unfortunately, that is where agreement ends. When discussing solutions, the various stakeholder groups’ agendas quickly rise to the surface. I have observed, and participated in, many of these discussions and there are a number of basic principles to consider and follow if we are to succeed in this monumental effort.
• The obligation and responsibility to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay must be shared by all citizens in Maryland and others in the watershed – New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and D.C.
• The initiatives and regulations must be fair and treat all participants in an open and even-handed way.
• The focus of the regulations must be to improve the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay. Extraneous issues that distract from the central goal must not enter the discussion.
• A pound of pollutant is a pound of pollutant regardless of the source.
• A viable and robust nutrient trading program must be established that incentivizes open market participation.
Examples of diversion from these principles are rife in the regulations and proposals being discussed. The EPA provided limited guidance to the states when they developed their responses and strategies in their Watershed Implementation Plans (the Bay Pollution Diet) resulting in some states being more aggressive in their plan (Maryland) and others less so (Virginia and Pennsylvania). This lack of uniformity among the states has, in turn, disproportionately impacted citizens and businesses in the various states.
The Maryland Legislature, with the de facto blessing of the EPA and Maryland Department of the Environment, completely abdicated any leadership regarding local responses to water quality retrofit obligations when creating the “Rain Tax” mandate. The tax applies to some jurisdictions but not all, each jurisdiction is left on its own to develop and assess the tax without oversight or accountability, and State and Federal Lands are exempt from the tax and any obligations to improve their water quality. Meanwhile, special interests are successfully lobbying for exemption as well, leaving regular citizens and businesses holding the bag. It shouldn’t need to be said but untreated runoff, and sewage discharges, from State and Federal properties, farms, and churches are the same as those coming from your neighborhood or the corner store.
Smart Growth advocates, including environmental activists and the Maryland Departments of Environment and Planning, have wrapped themselves in the blanket of “preserving agriculture” to justify their aggressive effort to stifle rural development through their attack on new septic systems, though these new regulations will have minimal water quality benefit to the Bay.
Nutrient trading provides a tremendous opportunity to incentivize property owners to voluntarily construct water quality treatment facilities on their land if they can then “sell” their pollution reduction credits to those who may be increasing pollutant runoff elsewhere. Unfortunately, distrust in the private market and distrust in the science behind measuring the water quality benefits of these facilities has created barriers to allowing this opportunity to be realized. On the one hand, we are taxed so that local governments can install these water quality measures, but the private sector can’t be trusted to do the same thing with private dollars.
The Chesapeake Bay, and all who benefit from it, would be much better served if we create a positive brand for Maryland around the Bay cleanup initiative. We must better define and describe the efforts necessary to achieve the water quality goals, share the burden in an equal, fair and transparent manner, and make sure that dollars spent result in water quality improvements to the Bay, not increased bureaucracy. If we can do that much, we might actually achieve what we all agree is necessary – a sustainable Bay for the future.
This is a regularly recurring column by Craig A. Ward on the environment and land use in Maryland. Ward is a Registered Professional Engineer and Certified Planner and is the President of Frederick Ward Associates, a civil engineering and architectural design firm in Bel Air. Ward has been involved in State and local land use and environmental policy and design for over 25 years. He can be reached at email@example.com. I95