The $19 million question
Over the past few days mayoral candidate Joe Albero has taken to his Salisbury News website – you know, the one with no authority line – and thrice bashed incumbent Jim Ireton for scheming to raise city taxes and fees by $19 million. But is Albero correct in blaming Ireton?
Yes and no. One could extend blame to the party Ireton is a member of and the politician he supported twice for President for signing an Executive Order compelling the federal government and states to increase their tempo in restoring Chesapeake Bay. It allowed the EPA great latitude in determining a course of action (like these marching orders show – orders which include the stick of possibly “withholding, conditioning, or reallocating federal grant funds”) and established a “pollution diet” which had little to do with maintaining the economic viability of the region but more to do with pie-in-the-sky goals for the state of the Bay twelve years hence. This supposedly would “ensure that all pollution control measures needed to fully restore the Bay and its tidal rivers are in place by 2025.” (Yet, as I’ll discuss in a bit, that won’t be the end of the road. Far from it.)
Thus, the state of Maryland became a greater participant in the effort – not that Governor Martin O’Malley, who Ireton also supported for election twice, was exactly going to be dragged kicking and screaming into the prospect of further power over and control of Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay watershed population.
But it can be argued Ireton has his hands tied, and if Joe Albero wins? He still has to deal with it. As it turns out, this $76 million effort is just a portion of Salisbury’s share of costs to enact the Phase II Watershed Implementation Plan, lovingly presented to the EPA by the state of Maryland last year. This led to the mandate from the Maryland Department of the Environment for local officials to prepare a plan for Wicomico County:
As requested by MDE, each of the twenty‐three counties and Baltimore City were instructed to prepare a Phase II Watershed Implementation Plan that details / demonstrates how each jurisdiction will do their part in improving the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries across Maryland.
We in rural Maryland know all about MDE “requests.” They expect the City of Salisbury to reduce their nitrogen load to the Bay by 24% and phosphorus by 40% compared to 2010 levels by 2025. (The county as a whole has a slightly greater task, 25% and 44% respectively.)
But in the report, it details (Figure 6b) the city’s annualized cost over a 12 year period to implement the targeted reductions, and guess what? It comes out to roughly $18.9 million per year – not for the four years Albero refers to, but for the next twelve years. (For Wicomico County as a whole, the annualized cost is $57.9 million a year – a sum roughly half again the county’s budget, for the same time period. My quick math tells me that’s $700 million dollars over 12 years!)
Still, by 2025 we are supposed to have what’s termed a “fully restored” Bay, right? “Isn’t that short-term pain worth it?” proponents in the Radical Green world will likely say.
Let’s face facts here. Do you honestly think that on January 1, 2026 the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is going to release its annual water quality survey and say, “welp, the Bay now grades a 100 on our scale, so our work is done?” Not a chance in hell. The sad fact is that, regardless of what measures are taken, the only long-term solution which will really satisfy the CBF and the rest of Radical Green would seem to be entirely depopulating rural areas and packing people into cities, where all their waste can be treated in acceptable sewage plants (which sometimes leak) and otherwise allow the rural areas to return to a pristine, John Smith-era condition. Sorry, rural landowners, your property is now worthless. Poultry industry, you’re banished.
Joe Albero can bash his opponent all he wants, but it doesn’t matter because the problem isn’t Jim Ireton – it’s Radical Green. We just won’t have as much green to live on thanks to them.
Yet there is something which can be done. While we have the Phase II WIP in place, what we don’t know are the steps which need to be undertaken. In short, what we should be asking for is a precise accounting of where this $19 million is going to go every year. Otherwise, we know what happens when a large pot of money extorted from ratepayers is left out there – greedy hands line their pockets with it and waste it on boondoggle projects. (For an example, see: pilfering of gasoline tax to General Fund for deficit reduction rather than fixing roads and bridges, Maryland.) That’s where Joe should focus his efforts, because we’re already stuck with this tab unless he can convince a number of unfriendly courts otherwise. Unfortunately, the best time to act on this has long since passed, not that Maryland’s leadership would ever dare to tell Uncle Sam and his overreaching minions to go pound sand anyway.
Long-term, this subject should be front and center in any discussion of how federal mandates adversely affect the states. There is a lot more bang for the buck in reducing nitrogen levels upstream of Chesapeake Bay and in urban water treatment plants, yet instead some used the Bay and this WIP as an excuse to wrest control of land use issues from the counties by passing the Septic Bill (SB236.) This bill won’t solve the problem but creates a situation where we are beholden even more to our Annapolis and Washington, D.C. overlords.
Something that’s often forgotten is the fact America is one of the cleanest countries on earth; meanwhile, areas of the communist world have been rendered uninhabitable by environmental disasters created by an uncaring government. There’s no question people would prefer the Bay be clean, but the effort should be voluntary and balanced with regard to the rights of property owners. The EPA’s solution is neither voluntary nor balanced, and our charge in the future should be one of restoring accountability to an unchecked bureaucracy, respect for private property, and free will – in short, government closer to that which our Founders intended.