More than two dozen witnesses testified before a joint legislative committee Tuesday on proposed regulation for upgraded septic systems across the state, most of them opposing the rule change.
State Department of the Environment officials who wrote the regulations –– the only proponents aside from environmentalists –– told the Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review joint committee that applying best available septic technology statewide is the way to reduce nutrient sediment load in the Chesapeake Bay.
Sen. David Brinkley, R-Frederick, a committee member, and other opponents, however, didn’t buy the underlying science and faulted the Environment Department for “nonsensical” numbers.
Family farmer John Rigdon of Harford County said, “If 6% of (nutrient sediment) is getting into Bay, it took 200 years to get there. It’s not going to increase by 6% each year” with future development.
Brinkley argued that not only do septic installers stand to gain from the mandate but Marylanders would be footing the bill for benefits reaped by neighboring bay states.
Other legislators also found the proposed regulation to be too expensive and beyond the scope of the Environment Department’s authority.
There were so many members missing from the committee that it could take no official action on the septic upgrades. The AELR committee also heard testimony opposing new restrictions on use of manure on farms, which were opposed by many farmers.
“Maryland Department of Everything”
Environment Secretary Robert Summers based his department’s authority to impose a statewide best practices mandate on the state’s code of regulation. Carroll County Board of Commissioners vice-president Richard Rothschild, R, however, said the Department was overstepping its boundaries and should be called the “Maryland Department of Everything.”
Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin, R-Cecil, blasted the State Environment Department for using its regulatory authority to end-run the legislature and Gov. Martin O’Malley for allowing it.
“Once again the governor displays a breathtaking arrogance to change the law. He has an environmental agenda. And he is not about to let a mere 188 elected lawmakers get in his way,” Pipkin said.
Senate President Mike Miller had criticized the department’s move during the special session in May as “disrespectful to the Senate” after Brinkley had tried to amend a budget bill and stop the regulation. The legislature had passed a major legislation on septic systems that was amended to restrict state authority.
Big money, little impact
Maryland Association of Realtors president Patricia Terrill said that the regulation, while focused on future development, does impact existing property owners. If changes are made which change the capacity of an existing septic system, that system would have to be upgraded to best available technology, carrying a price tag of $8,000-$12,000.
St. Mary’s County Board of County Commissioners member Cindy Jones, R, and Del. Charles Otto, R-Wicomico, –– representing one of the poorest jurisdictions in the state –– urged the committee to consider the financial burden the regulation would have for homeowners.
Carroll County’s Rothschild said $1,000 to remove 3-4 pounds of nitrogen with less than one-tenth of 1% impact is “a dog that doesn’t hunt and doesn’t get us to where we need to be.”
Bay on the brink?
Summers argued that in order to comply with federal rules limiting the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous going into the Bay and its watershed and to restore water quality “best available technology” needed to be applied statewide, not just in areas within 1,000 feet of tributaries.
Maryland’s estimated 420,000 septic systems each introduce 24 pounds of nitrogen per year into state waters, Summers said. That compares to about 2 pounds per household connected to sewer systems with enhanced nutrient management systems.
If the proposed regulation is approved and the projected 2,200 new septic systems across the state are required to implement the best available technology, the nitrogen output into the Bay would be roughly equivalent to 31,000 pounds of nitrogen, or the amount produced by the city of Cambridge. Summers noted that the number of new homes is a conservative estimate following the housing collapse. If the market picks up, as many as 5,000 new septic systems could come online.
By Dana Amihere
Letters to Editor
Clean Bay – 1
Tea Party – 0
Joan Cramer says
Well said. (And why is this published as a report, when it is clearly an editorial?)
Clean Bay – 1
Tea Party – 0….
The Tea Party, ” as a whole” has no say on this issue what-so-ever, from what I can find. Second, the issue brought up in this article be it pro or con for the “Flush Tax” debate is about a State Agency doing an end run around the Maryland Legislature to implement a regulation that will cost Maryland residents an unfair portion of Chesapeake Bay maintenance and clean up vs. neighboring states which will not pay an equal share, but will reap the benefits paid for in the majority by Maryland citizens. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I bought a house out in the county in 2009 and my quarterly water and sewer bills have continually gone up since day one to the point they are now almost $300 a quarter compared to when I lived in Chestertown town limits and they were less than $200 for the whole year in town. It’s truly sad that the loudest unspoken statement is when you have to file for a waiver as a county resident in order to have a water & sewer hook up out in the county….Right…Clean Bay – 1, Tea Party – 0….
The New Republican Party fights anything environmental. Not liking the phrase “tea party” being applied is your
Prerogative, however this co-opted group of former independent- minded people seem to be the mainstream GOP now.
You want clean water? It is not free.
sheila walker says
Maybe he’d like some cheese with his whine.
joe diamond says
Spotted a little confusion here!
There are nutrients….disolved chemicals that move through soils into water.
There is sediment….flowing soils that move with rain or other releases……they sink.
There must me a such thing as nutrient sediment……..but the sources must be defined.
In the example given……….sediment fill around the bay did take 200 years to build. But it did not happen gradually, I once saw a Maryland Science Center core sample of the Sassafrass (sp) River. The sediment load (between layers of leaves in one year (1934 I think) was greater that the previous hundred years. Clear cut logging and crappy soil management on local farms just clogged the river in places. This was presented as a typical example.
Anyhow, again we look at science being presented and being opposed by money interests.
Nothing changes. Could we not get correct science and then get a way to finance past abuses while stopping future problems?