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As Long as We Remember...

March 22, 2011

Clouding Legislative Transparency

Farrell Keough

It is likely the bill on septic systems before the Maryland General Assembly will be remanded to Summer study, but that is by no means the end of this draconian proposal. Truth be told, this is not really about septic systems per se; it is much more about promoting the ideology of Smart Growth.


Let’s consider some of the facts surrounding this proposed legislation. The model from the Environmental Protection Agency for the Chesapeake Bay Nutrient TMDL [Total Maximum Daily Load], commonly known as the “Pollution Diet,” is the basis for this proposal. This model is severely flawed and it uses very old data.


Why would such a cutting edge model need to use old data when newer data exists? And, the newer data includes myriad, Best Management Practices (BMPs) put in place by the farming and development communities. Yet this data was intentionally omitted. One must question if the use of new data caused problems with the model output. But I digress.


First, let’s consider what was used for the septic data – single data points from 1985 that range, (in the same stream segment) from 0.015 lbs/day to over 350 lbs/day. What is possibly going on in that stream that such a huge difference could be monitored? Especially from over 25 years ago.


It seems the EPA came to the same conclusion during a February 17 meeting of the principals involved in this EPA program, including state, local, and other government officials from New York to D.C. It was noted the septic data will be replaced with state derived data.


What is “state derived data?” No idea – questions from the public were not taken during that meeting. Nonetheless, it is fully acknowledged that this data is so flawed it cannot be used in this modeling analysis.


But, don’t be fooled. The EPA also acknowledged during that meeting that no appreciable changes would occur from the new modeling analysis. Sounds like the fix is in!


But, let’s get back to the thrust of this proposal – it is far less about the environment than it is about promoting the ideology of Smart Growth. Since we have seen that the data cannot substantiate these new regulations, one must question what the other motives might be. To that end, a glimmer of light might exist as to the recent support of this proposal by Frederick City Alderman Karen Lewis Young.


During an extended email conversation, much of this became evident. Initially, Ms. Young’s support for this bill was based on individuals from the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) and Frederick City staff – none of these people would reply to email inquiries. Another rational for supporting this proposed legislation was a letter from the Maryland Municipal League (MML). This was perplexing – the letter opened with the following:


“Due to uncertainty concerning whether SB 846/HB 1107 would be considered for passage during the 2011 General Assembly legislative session or deferred to a study group over the 2011 interim, the Maryland Municipal League did not take a formal position on the legislation. However, as longtime supporters of the concept of Smart Growth in Maryland as a means to control sprawl, the Maryland Municipal League would like to provide comments relative to SB 846/HB 1107.”


While the MML supports Smart Growth, it opposed the current legislation based on three reasons:


1.)    “[T]he legislation as drafted is that it seems to prohibit future development on undeveloped land in a municipal growth area outside a municipal border if four or more lots on the land have already been developed on septic…


2.)    “The League is also concerned that this legislation seems to put municipal water and sewer infrastructure on equal footing with shared community systems (a.k.a., package [filtration] plants)…


3.)    “Finally, the state needs to recognize that there is insufficient funding to upgrade medium and smaller municipal wastewater treatment plants to handle future growth…”


In short, for both Alderman Young and the MML, this is less about saving the environment than it is about promoting the unproven ideology of Smart Growth. But, why is this bad? Smart Growth is being promoted as the way of the future.


Smart Growth has a negative effect on affordable housing – simple economics: less real-estate means higher prices. To remedy this, more governmental interference in the market is required with more unintended consequences and more governmental interference – a never ending viscous circle.


But, the younger crowd buys into this concept and ideology, right? As shown in an article from the Wall Street Journal, not so much.


Historically, immigrants have helped prop up urban markets. But since 1980 the percentage who settle in urban areas has dropped to 34% from 41%. Some 52% are now living in suburbs, up from 44% 30 years ago...


What about the "millennials” – the generation born after 1983? Research by analysts Morley Winograd and Mike Hais, authors of the ground-breaking "Millennial Makeover," indicates this group is even more suburban-centric than their boomer parents. Urban areas do exercise great allure to well-educated younger people, particularly in their 20s and early 30s. But what about when they marry and have families, as four in five intend? A recent survey of millennials by Frank Magid and Associates, a major survey research firm, found that although roughly 18% consider the city "an ideal place to live," some 43% envision the suburbs as their preferred long-term destination.


So, while many people see this proposed legislation as not affecting them, the costs to municipalities, property rights, and affects on future generations are an integral part of this proposal. While this may be couched as environmentally beneficial, in reality it has a basis in governmental control and ideological imposition.

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