The Devilís in the Details
When we were last together, we noted that a change in the economy may drive our political choices – good, bad, or indifferent. When we are ‘fat and happy,’ we often do not keep track of what is going on with our politicians, government agencies, or new legislation.
As similar scenario can take place when our only concern becomes the economy – many new government actions get slipped in under the radar.
We are seeing the latter occur with respect to the Chesapeake Bay Nutrient TMDL Model [Total Maximum Daily Loading]. The proposals being forwarded from this model are tremendously draconian, based on very poor assumptions, and fly in the face of the many philosophies also being forwarded by government regulations, (e.g. Smart Growth policies).
Having read through the entire documentation and sent in comments to the Environmental Protection Agency about this model, I can assure you of the poor quality of this analysis – but I will spare you an in-depth technical analysis. In short, five basic aspects to the model harm its validity.
The model uses data from 20-30 years ago.
The model does not include already incorporated Best Management Practices.
The proposed new regulations, [Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs)] have not been fleshed out even though they are due for finalization within months.
Many sections within the computer modeling analysis documentation are missing promised information justification for assumptions.
New stormwater regulations are being promulgated even before this modeling analysis and the effects of the new rules/regulations are even known or understood.
In short, the many gains documented over the years in land use, farming techniques, and stormwater managements are not accounted for within this modeling analysis – yet, this analysis has been in place since the early 1970’s.
”The downward trend in the NRI [National Resources Inventory] data of estimated erosion rates from 1982, 1987, 1992, and 1997 is assumed to be due to general improvements in management practices, a trend which would cause double-counting if this reduction is represented first by the full 1982-1997 average of the NRI data and then by the application of load reductions by sediment BMPs.” In short, the known improvements in management practices were not included in this modeling analysis – rather than portray the known and real improvements, the EPA decided to use data from 1982-1987 and develop a model which showed much more negative effects from farming, business activities, and municipalities.
The USDA has recently contracted its own modeling analysis and determined this model does not represent a real world portrayal. “If USDA’s numbers are correct, agriculture has already significantly surpassed EPA targets for reductions in sediment and phosphorus,” said National Association of Corn Growers Director of Public Policy Rod Snyder. “It is crucial that farmers in the Bay watershed receive appropriate credit for their efforts to be good stewards of our land and water resources.”
Rather than bore you with the myriad of specifics and technical aspects, suffice to say this proposal and the documentation had many sections which promised additional data and one section, dealing with aggregating all farmers together, (as though none of them used Best Management Practices or different methodologies) was completely missing! Yes, an entire section of the documentation, (which is referenced in other areas of the documentation) was never released.
Other sections had notes stating “[3/13/08 – Jeff S. says we‘ll have a final write-up on how this land use was actually calculated soon. The 1% was only a place holder to keep the calibration going.]” or “(KATE TO PUT TOGETHER A GIS GRAPHIC OF AVETRAGE WATER WITHDRAWS BY RIVER SEGMENT - REQUESTED 3/3/08).” Consider this, the EPA closed off commentary by November 8th, 2010, but they were unable to complete their own documentation!
One of the major aspects being proposed in the WIPs is the concept of ‘Water Quality Credit Trading’, or a type of Cap-N-Trade proposition. To date, no methodology for such a proposal has been put in place, yet the deadlines for states to submit their WIPs has already passed. This is most certainly a horse-before-cart scenario – somewhat akin to “[W]e have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of controversy.” (House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the Health Care bill of 2010)
Finally, with states and federal programs pushing development methods like Smart Growth or brown-field building – this program coupled with the new Stormwater Regulations being promulgated will ensure these philosophies of development are dead on arrival.
For instance, the Maryland Association of Counties (MACo), an organization known for supporting environmental improvements, has questioned if these measures will in fact benefit the Chesapeake Bay at the burdensome expense of tens of billions of dollars to local and state governments. [Impact on State and Local Governments – Maryland Association of Counties estimate cited in the November 2, 2010 NAHB webinar on “Stormwater Requirements vs. Smart Growth,” see www.nahb.org/stormwaterwebinar].
Everyone wants to ensure the majesty of the Chesapeake Bay can be returned. But, the issue at hand is dealing with valid science and policy. For instance, the EPA said, “they've received 7,980 written comments about the plan… The vast majority of them were in support, but were form-letter type comments evidently generated by environmental groups supporting a federal bay pollution crackdown.” Simply because environmental is placed on the name of a program does not in fact mean it is environmental or beneficial – similar to using the term “it’s for the children.”
We must remain vigilant about these practices. Arguments on Ear Marks or Freezes to Government Employee pay make big headlines, but the real costs and harm comes from these unaccountable programs that are slipped in without valid review. The EPA is one of these unaccountable organizations; and it has used that process in many heavy-handed ways which have not improved our lives or environments.