The real weather effects

March 3, 2014 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items, Radical Green · Comments Off 

As I sit here on what seems like the umpteenth snow day of this winter of our discontent, I ponder what the world was supposed to be like just a decade or so ago. I’d have thought by now the polar ice caps would be melted because the earth would be so warm and I’d be enjoying my tropical beachfront property right here in Salisbury.

Snark aside, one has to wonder if the climate is really changing. For the past several winters, we have endured at least one significant snow event – something I don’t recall dealing with in the first few winters I’ve lived down here. The big blast of snow we had in 2010 was really the first major snowstorm since I’d moved here in 2004, but that was the first of several winters this decade one may consider harsher than normal. This year, though, takes the cake. (While this piece is about two decades old, the average snowfall of about 10-15″ is consistent with the Wikipedia-supplied average of 9.9″ for Salisbury.) Today’s storm threatened a foot of snow, but will likely fall into the 4-6″ range, adding to a winter where snowfall has far exceeded the norm.

If you believe as I do that the sun dictates our climate, we may be in for a long series of cold winters. It seems like as plausible an explanation as any other. But what does that mean for the average family?

First of all, I define how cold a year is by the number of heating degree days used. This is a very simple calculation: the average temperature for a calendar day subtracted from a constant temperature of 65 degrees. I was taught this concept in my architectural training, and it’s a handy way to determine how cold a period of time is. From this site, I found that over the last decade we’ve generally run an average of 4,315 heating degree days, with the years of 2003-2005 being a little colder than average; on the other hand, 2011-2013 were comparatively balmy because we finished under 4,000 heating degree days. So the fact we are running 19% ahead of 2013 on degree days through February really means we may be getting back to a longer-term average, polar vortex or not.

But degree days don’t equate to snow; I tend to believe colder winters aren’t generally as snowy. Usually the biggest snowstorms brew in from our south, which implies a warmer flow of air colliding with cold air from the west. A more westerly clipper system isn’t usually a big snow producer here.

Now snow, in and of itself, isn’t such a big deal aside from perhaps a one- or two-day disruption in routine. And all this snow is great for some people: those who have plowing businesses on the side (or get overtime from the state/local government for plowing) are making out like bandits this year, and ski resorts are cheering these storms on as well. Kids get to play in the snow. But on the other side of the ledger: tourism could be down a little at spring break because kids may have to make up all those wintry days missed, local governments have to dig into their contingency funds to secure more salt for the roads, and so forth. Overall, the effects are fairly minor.

Conversely, cold weather is difficult for most families on a budget; in particular, the need to find more money for electricity, natural gas, or heating oil. And while Eastern Shore summers can be torturous without air conditioning, they’re more manageable than dealing with a cold spell without heat. That can be deadly.

And on a long-term axis, a cooldown may make food more expensive as yields decline and certain staples become harder to find. For example, over the course of several decades, orange production in Florida has retreated southward due to too-frequent bouts of freezing weather. Obviously some of that migration comes from pressure from development, but orange groves aren’t a fixture in the state’s northern half anymore. By the same token, the area where wheat production is possible becomes smaller as a large percentage of the world’s land mass lies in northern subpolar regions where a few miles of retreat turns into a lot of lost acreage.

So the question is whether this unusually lionlike start to March is an anamoly or a sign of winters to come. Florida may seem like a better and better bet to many who get tired of shoveling year after year, but there are only so many people it can support and food has to be grown by someone someplace. Maybe those broken chunks of polar vortex which have swirled in our direction will go someplace else next winter, but it wouldn’t surprise me to find that all who warned us about global warming were the only ones creating the hot air – it sure wasn’t the bright sunshine.

Back to that three letter word: J-O-B-S

I still like picking on Joe Biden. But over the last month or so I’ve collected a lot of divergent information on policy suggestions, each of which promses to be the magic elixir to get our economy moving in the right direction again.

I think the key to this lies in two areas: manufacturing and energy. In that respect, I keep a lot of information handy to discuss in this space, with a group called the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) generally representing the left-of-center, pro-union side. And while their main goal seems to be increasing the coffers of Big Labor, luckily most workers still have free will – ask the employees at the Tennessee Volkswagen plant about how much effort from the UAW can be rebuffed in a simple up-or-down vote.

Currency manipulation is one area in which the AAM has been focusing. A study they cite, by the liberal Economic Policy Institute (EPI), makes the case that:

Many of the new jobs (if the subject is addressed) would be in manufacturing, a sector devastated by rising trade deficits over the past 15 years. Rising trade deficits are to blame for most of the 5.7 million U.S. manufacturing jobs (nearly a third of manufacturing employment) lost since April 1998. Although half a million manufacturing jobs have been added since 2009, a full manufacturing recovery requires greatly increasing exports, which support domestic job creation, relative to imports, which eliminate domestic jobs.

Personally I disagree with the premise that rising trade deficits can be blamed for the job losses; instead, I think an absurdly high corporate tax rate and onerous regulations have contributed more to chasing away American manufacturing. (While many simply blame “outsourcing” for the problem, fewer understand the dynamics which led to the outsourcing.) Yet there is merit to the idea that all sides should be competing on as level of a playing field as possible when it comes to the means of exchange, and China is one of the worst offenders. (And why not? They are communists, after all, and you can’t trust communists any farther than you can throw them.)

Two of EPI’s findings are quite interesting: first, should the EPI model come to its fruition, the oil and gas industry would be the hardest hit, and second, Maryland would be among the states least impacted, with barely a 1% rise in employment.

Yet AAM president Scott Paul is quick to blame Barack Obama:

President Obama promised to hold China accountable. He hasn’t. The White House last month said President Obama would use his pen and his phone to make progress on economic issues. He could start today by signing an order to designate China as a currency manipulator.  Then, he could call the Chinese leadership to demand an end to that practice, and secure an agreement on a plan to cut this deficit in half over the next three years.

I sort of wish Mr. Paul would also figure out the other problems, but he is correct to be concerned about our Chinese policy. Job creation has become more important than deficit reduction in the minds of Americans, both in the AAM poll I cited above and a Pew Research Poll cited by the American Petroleum Institute (API).

And the industry which benefits from API’s efforts represents another piece of the puzzle which we can take advantage of: our abundant energy supplies. While America uses 26 trillion cubic feet of natural gas per year, there is the possibility of as much as 10,000 trillion cubic feet within our land mass. That’s nearly 4 centuries worth, so I don’t think we will run out anytime soon. (Estimates have continued on an upward path as new technology makes previously unworkable plays economically viable.) As I keep saying, it’s too bad we don’t have a nice shale play under our little sandbar. Not only that, but the infrastructure we will need to take advantage of all that (and help curtail spot shortages like the ones we’re having this chilly winter) would be a guaranteed job creator – one which derives its basis from the private sector. New pipelines aren’t just for export facilities like Cove Point, but could benefit this area and perhaps bring more natural gas service to our region.

Unfortunately, Maryland isn’t poised to take advatange of either the manufacturing or energy booms at present, thanks to back-breaking economic policy and a foolhardy go-slow approach on fracking. It takes a strident opponent of the latter to suggest yet another approach which will do damage to the former, but gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur accomplishes this with the tired old combined reporting proposal. Hers comes with a twist, though, which she announced last Monday:

In the morning, Mizeur will host several Maryland business owners for a Small Business Roundtable. They will discuss her legislation to provide tax relief to small business owners, as well as other highlights from the campaign’s ten-point plan for jobs and the economy, which was released last fall. She will also hear from the business owners on a range of other concerns.

(snip)

At 1:00 pm, several business owners will join Mizeur in front of Ways and Means to testify on behalf of legislation that would enact combined reporting and distribute the estimated $197 million to small businesses for personal property tax rebates.

It’s the liberal way of picking winners and losers. And according to a 2008 study by the Council on State Taxation – admittedly, an opponent of the practice:

Combined reporting has uncertain effects on a state’s revenues, making it very difficult to predict the revenue effect of adopting combined reporting.

Even proponents don’t address that aspect, instead emphasizing how it would “level the playing field between multistate corporations and locally based companies.” But since Mizeur’s idea is one which would subsidize some businesses under a certain employment plateau, the uncertainty would likely be just another reason to avoid Maryland.

On the other hand, a Republican like Larry Hogan at least gets businesses together to discuss what they really want. Granted, once he gets them together he speaks in broad concepts rather than a more specific plan, but at least he’s listening to the right people. None of the others in the GOP field have specific plans, either, although Ron George probably comes the closest.

One has to ask what states which are succeeding economically are doing to attract new business. The state with the lowest unemployment rate, North Dakota, is prospering – more like crushing the rest of the field – on account of abundant energy resources, and perhaps that success is pulling surrounding states up with it. Its three neighbors (Montana, South Dakota, and Minnesota) all rest within the top 13 when it comes to low unemployment rates and other regional states like second-place Nebraska, Iowa, Wyoming, and Kansas lie within the top 10. Although the top five are right-to-work states, half the bottom 10 are as well. Nor can tax climate be seen as a dominating factor since the top 10 in unemployment vary widely in that category: Wyoming, South Dakota, Utah, and Montana are indeed excellent in that aspect, but North Dakota is decidedly more pedestrian and Iowa, Vermont, and Minnesota are among the worst.

But Maryland has the tendency to depend too much on the federal government as an economic driver. This presents a problem because bureaucrats don’t really produce anything – they skim off the top of others’ labor but don’t add value. Certainly it’s great for those who live around the Beltway, and it’s telling that all three of the Democratic candidates have a connection to the two Maryland counties which border the District of Columbia while none of the Republicans save Larry Hogan do.

In order to create jobs, I think the state needs to diversify its economy, weaning itself off the government teat and encouraging manufacturing and energy exploration. Meanwhile, there’s also a need to rightsize regulation and restore a balance between development and Chesapeake Bay cleanup – specifically by placing a five-year moratorium on new environmental restrictions while cleaning up the sediment behind the Conowingo Dam. Let’s give that which we’ve already done a chance to work and other states a chance to catch up.

The best route out of government dependence is a job. Unfortunately, when the aim of the dominant political party in the state is one of creating as many dependents as possible, a lot of good entrepreneurs will be shown the door. It’s time to welcome them in with open arms.

Denying the market

To be honest, I’m not sure if I was sent this to provoke a comment or if I just happen to be on a list that gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur doesn’t use all that often. I think most observers know I have an interest in energy issues, and this definitely falls into one of them. You just have to ask yourself why Mizeur counts herself among the Democrats are so insistent on denying the opportunity for shovel-ready jobs and investment – I thought that was what they were all about.

First of all, this is what Mizeur had to say about the proposed Cove Point LNG export facility.

(Yesterday), Delegate Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery), candidate for governor, called on Governor O’Malley to join her in opposition to the Dominion Resources liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facility at Cove Point in Calvert County. She made the announcement during a speech at the Stop Cove Point Rally in downtown Baltimore City earlier today.

“I am calling on Gov. O’Malley to take a stand with us today to reject Cove Point,” Mizeur told the audience. “You cannot leave a legacy on addressing climate change and be silent on Cove Point. It’s time for Gov. O’Malley to break the silence and join us in saying no to Cove Point.”

The rally, which was attended by 500 people, was organized by climate, health and anti-fracking activists from across the state, and was one of the largest environmental rallies ever in Baltimore City. It came as the state Public Service Commission begins official hearings on the project.

Mizeur is currently the only gubernatorial candidate to state her opposition to the project. When she announced her opposition in December, both Lieutenant Governor Brown and Attorney General Gansler – the two other Democratic candidates in the race for governor – expressed a desire to build the project without environmental damage, but failed to explain how such a plan would be possible.

Dominion Resources, a Virginia-based energy company, is pursuing the construction of a $3.8 billion facility to serve as a collection point for fracked natural gas from throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, where cargo tankers would then ship it throughout the world.

But the Cove Point facility would release 3.3 million tons of carbon dioxide and other harmful greenhouse gases into the air annually, making it a serious setback to achieving the state’s goals on fighting climate change, including a plan for a 25% reduction of greenhouse gases by 2020.

Mizeur has also called on Dominion Resources to invest $3.8 billion – the construction cost of the proposed facility – in the state’s renewable energy sector. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, clean energy investments create more permanent jobs than exporting fracked gas.

Obviously Mizeur is an adherent to the religion of manmade climate change, a belief system which fails to address why none of the climate models have predicted the lack of warming this century. The fact that they managed to get just 500 people to a climate change rally shows how small the cadre of believers really is – a good Second Amendment or TEA Party rally can rustle up similar numbers without really trying. If this is “one of the largest environmental protests in state history” then we really are letting a tiny minority dictate policy.

But let’s say these guys are really serious – I suppose living in a state foolish enough to believe that artificially limiting its carbon emissions will have an effect on our overall global climate will do that to you. Even if the point source of 3.3 million tons is correct, it doesn’t take into account the reduction in emissions at destination points abroad. Natural gas is cleaner burning than coal, and until we figured out that fracking was a way to supercharge the moribund domestic natural gas market it was a fossil fuel environmentalists weren’t uncomfortable with. To show how the market has changed, the Cove Point facility was originally built in the 1970s as an import facility because the domestic natural gas market was thought to be in an irreversible decline.

On the other hand, the point source investment of $3.8 billion will have a positive effect on the regional and state economies. Last year, in announcing its filing, Dominion claimed the project will create up to 4,000 jobs during the construction phase and perhaps over 14,000 jobs overall, not to mention billions in royalty payments. Because most of the supply would come from regional producers, the entire mid-Atlantic area would benefit (except Maryland and New York, which currently have bans on fracking.) The facility would also provide a needed boost to our export tally to address a persistent American trade deficit, as the LNG is already contracted out to distributors in Japan and India.

Finally, Mizeur complains that the $3.8 billion Dominion is willing to invest in the project could be better spent in the renewable energy sector. Does the name “Solyndra” ring a bell? Despite its best efforts to create a market for offshore wind, companies aren’t willing to make the investment in that area – remember Bluewater Wind? In the area of solar energy, it took billions in taxpayer-guaranteed loans – and mandated renewable energy portfolios such as the one Maryland is saddled with – to get that market off the ground, yet it still produces but a tiny fraction of our electricity needs at a cost several times the going rate for electricity produced from coal or natural gas.

And it’s funny that Mizeur worries about the cost of natural gas going up due to exports, but had no problem with raising the gasoline tax on a perpetual basis. So much for supporting hard-working Marylanders.

So the choices are either zero or $3.8 billion; that’s reality. We can take advantage of proven resources we already have or listen to alarmists whose real goal is to foster dependence on government under the guise of saving the planet. It’s just too bad our little sandbar is energy-poor, unless you deign to call chicken manure an energy gold mine, and even the proponents concede its not as efficient as natural gas.

The flip side of twenty bucks

Since there’s not a lot of political news going on right at the moment because half the state is buried under the global warming provided by a February nor’easter, I thought I would highlight a real step in the right direction in cleaning up Chesapeake Bay.

In a 10-page letter released last week by the Clean Chesapeake Coalition, the group collectively blasted the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) for stating certain localities “want to keep creeks dirty” and for an overall focus on punitive taxes and regulations for Marylanders while glossing over problems upstream from the Chesapeake. (The letter can be read in its entirety here.)

As a whole, the CBF has rarely met a restrictive regulation it didn’t like, even condemning other states for standing up for their interests, which happen to be congruent with those of farmers in this case. It seems they are at war with the agricultural industry nationwide, and their argument that these pollution limits actually create jobs reads as a variation of the “broken window” theory – how much capital and job creation is lost because we’re being forced into these relatively unproductive pursuits? Obviously it’s a bone of contention whether lasting results will be achievable without both cleanup of the Conowingo sediment and further cooperation from states upstream.

And thus the argument about making Salisbury property owners pay a fee ranging from $20 to thousands annually for the privilege of being within city limits. You can’t convince me that, even if we knock ourselves out and somehow manage to achieve the 2025 standards set by the EPA – with legal assistance from the CBF, who sued them to get the desired result – that the CBF will consider the matter solved and the taxes no longer necessary. Nope, this is a permanent thing we’re being signed up for, and eventually all of Wicomico County will be forced to join in.

The problem with government, and even quasi-governmental agencies like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, is that they have no end game because it’s not in their interest to have one. Solving the problem would mean ceasing to exist, and the CBF is a cash cow bringing in over $30 million annually, with nearly $6 million going to administration and fundraising. That’s a goodly number of people who would have to find honest work otherwise, and the power of steering state and federal policy is a further intoxicant. (Of course, the same is true of the Clean Chesapeake Coalition, but I sense they would rather not see the need to exist.)

So we have a choice – the old BOHICA approach or taking a stand for common sense and local control. Can you guess where I stand?

Twenty bucks is twenty bucks

The “rain tax” is probably coming to Salisbury.

Eager to jump on that bandwagon, the Daily Times reports that Salisbury City Council unanimously agreed to move a bill to create a stormwater utility forward for final approval at a future meeting, a date to be determined but likely in the next 60 days. All five of the Salisbury City Council members are Democrats, as is Mayor Jim Ireton, who backs the proposal. Jeremy Cox’s story quotes City Council president Jake Day as saying “There’s no good argument for not having this in place, to have a funding system to pay for things.”

Bull.

There’s a great and very simple argument: we have no idea if what we would be doing will have any significant impact on Chesapeake Bay. As vague as the Phase II Watershed Implemetation Plan for Wicomico County is in terms of how many assumptions it makes, there are two things it doesn’t tell me: the overall impact of Wicomico County presently on the health of the Bay, and the economic impacts following the plan will have on business and our local economy. Does the $20 I would spend each year make a dent, or is it just another way for government to reach into my pocket for dubious benefit? Less than national average fee or not, it takes away from my less-than-national-average salary.

The argument by Brad Gillis also rings true. Because  the state requires most new development to adhere to overly strict stormwater guidelines, those who have will still be paying the rate on top of the expense others didn’t put out. Stormwater retention isn’t cheap.

And, of course, there’s the very real possibility that the $20 of 2015 will be $35 after 2017 or $100 sometime after that. Once enacted, I’ve rarely met a fee or a tax that’s decreased and because the goal is so open-ended this just seems like another excuse to reach into our pockets in perpetuity.

This is a state where I pay bridge tolls to subsidize a superhighway I’ll probably never drive, pay a gasoline tax out here in the hinterland to prop up a boondoggle of a public transit system in the urban core (complete with pie-in-the-sky light rail lines many of those along the route don’t want), and get to watch a governor for whom I didn’t vote – twice – play whack-a-mole with expenses that pop up by “borrowing” from dedicated state funds and floating bonds to make up the difference. Why should I trust the city of Salisbury to be prudent with my money when the regulatory goalposts are sure to shift? Ask David Craig about the state and what happens when they change their mind.

Several years ago I proposed a moratorium on new Chesapeake Bay regulations so we could figure out whether all that we had put in place would work. Of course, for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Town Creek Foundation, and other denizens of Radical Green there’s too much money for their coffers at stake to ever agree to such an idea – and it’s such fun to figure out new offensives along our flanks in the War on Rural Maryland.

Needless to say, my reasoning probably won’t change any minds on Salisbury City Council, or that of the mayor. I know Jim Ireton, Jake Day and Laura Mitchell to a greater or lesser extent, and they’re decent enough people, but they seem to have this idea in their head that government central planning is the solution and for every need there has to be a new fee to pay for it. When the “need” is a mandate from on high, that’s where I object. Twenty bucks is twenty bucks for the tapped-out homeowner, but those who are job creators will likely pay a whole lot more and it’s just another incentive to locate elsewhere, in my estimation.

Easy pickins

You wouldn’t necessarily think of him as the farmer’s candidate, but Charles Lollar has at least paid a little bit of attention to how environmental factors affect one of Maryland’s top industries. Recall that he spoke at length about the Hudson case in one of his initial campaign stops, and it may not necessarily surprise you that he’s now making hay out of what’s he dubbing the “chicken tax.”

The “Chicken Tax” is another “Rain Tax” moment in Maryland history. Farmers in Maryland should be outraged. Agriculture is the number one economic industry in Maryland. It accounts for $2.3 billion in gross receipts to the economy annually and generates approximately 46,000 jobs. More than half of these jobs are on the Eastern Shore. Why are legislators willing to risk all that?

We need a balanced approach to solving environmental issues in Maryland. Keeping the Bay clean is a regional problem that involves more than controlling agricultural run off from Maryland farms. Sediment from adjacent states, like Pennsylvania, contribute to the pollution. Leadership in Annapolis needs to craft a regional solution to this problem that requires all states that pollute the Bay to “pay their fair share” to keep it clean. We must not allow legislators in Annapolis to “hurt Maryland first” by bankrupting hard-working farmers with a “Chicken Tax” and putting the future of Maryland’s number one economic industry at risk.

Given Lollar’s propensity for shrill populism, I took the liberty of reading the bill in question, Senate Bill 725. (The same bill is in the House of Delegates as House Bill 905, a common Maryland practice.) The Senate bill’s lead sponsor is Richard Madaleno, a Montgomery County senator whose experience with chicken is probably that of seeing it at Whole Foods. (He seems the vegetarian type.)

Basically the bill as proposed, called the Poultry Fair Share Act (PFSA), tries to “achieve” two things: raise money from poultry processors like Perdue, Mountaire, Tyson, etc. at five cents per bird and establish a bankroll to “fund cover crop activities on agricultural lands upon which chicken manure has been applied as fertilizer.” The secondary purpose of the bill is to increase the share of money going into an existing state fund to reimburse owners of failing septic systems who have to replace them with a system with enhanced nitrogen removal – currently that fund shares its proceeds with the cover crop program on a 60/40 basis, with the cover crops getting the 40% share.

Needless to say the local producers are feeling a little put upon, as would anyone subject to a bill arbitrarily deeming that it pay a “fair share.” Madaleno is probably upset because his county has to pay the aforementioned “rain tax” but no Eastern Shore county yet has to (although certain muncipalities in the region already collect such a tax.) Prominently featured on the webpage of the Delmarva Poultry Industry homepage is a series of questions about the PFSA.

So my question is simple, and it applies to any candidate, including Lollar. How many of you will put your money where your mouth is and go testify against the Senate bill when it comes to a hearing on Tuesday, February 25th at 1 p.m.? Certainly these candidates are willing to put themselves out for gun rights and stand against taxation in general, but who is going to face down the environmental lobby in this state and politely (or better yet, impolitely) tell them to do the anatomically impossible and go f–k themselves?

Writing a press release is one thing, but we need activists. Personally I’m tired of seeing the agricultural industry in Maryland – no, wait, the entire rural slice of the state in general, whether it be farmer, resident, or small business – be the featured whipping boy for groups which would just as soon see the non-urban portions of the state revert to their once-wild condition. Yes, that means you, Waterkeepers Alliance, Food and Water Watch, and even certain members of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. I’ve only been here a decade, but I spent my teenage years in a rural area and I think we all got along just fine without you because – as they often note – farmers are the original environmentalists. We might not have liked it a whole lot when the wind blew the perfume of the pig farm down the road our way, but it was a small inconvenience for the rural living my parents desired.

I happen to think we can have it all – a great quality of life, economic growth and the jobs it creates, and water quality suitable for the recreational and aquacultural purposes we demand from Chesapeake Bay – without these environmentalists coming in and mucking up the works with overregulation and harsh taxation. Hopefully we can count on all four GOP gubernatorial candidates to stick up for the farmer in this fight.

A call to defensive action

A snowstorm two weeks ago delayed a planned work session of the Wicomico County Council to discuss the merits of joining the Clean Chesapeake Coalition. In my original piece I brought up the potential of the entire Radical Green crew showing up at the meeting to tell us we need to toe the state’s line that the rain tax is the only way to proceed.

As it turns out, the delay brings us around to an evening meeting, beginning at 6 p.m. tomorrow night, February 4. And as the Wicomico Society of Patriots points out, other items will be on the docket as well:

You may recall that the CCC is challenging the way the state is implementing Bay cleanup efforts. They emphasize putting scarce revenue resources where they will have the most benefit to the Bay. They also question the economic sense of putting billions of taxpayer dollars into one-size-fits-all, top down, solutions that not only will have severe and documented economic impacts on our region, but they emphasize that the State’s regulatory overreach will further erode our property rights and along with it our property values.

It is strongly rumored that key members of the environmental community will be there to oppose this commitment by the county to support the work of the CCC. It is vital that you be there to make your concerns known, whether you actually speak or by virtue of your mere presence.

Also, please plan to be there for the regular council legislative session. The council will hear testimony on the $3.47 million budget shortfall, which was apparently due to overly optimistic revenue estimates by Mr. Andy Mackle’s office, and how to deal with it. Also, there will be discussion and a vote on whether to grant raises to the offices of county sheriff, county administrator, and county council.

To put things in perspective, the annual raises put together will probably not equal the $25,000 the Clean Chesapeake Coalition asks for. And I can already picture Radical Green’s argument that the budget deficit surely precludes spending the money. Honestly, I don’t mind the raises for the County Council; in fact, I would argue they should make the wage an amount more commensurate to that of a full-time worker, at least for one term. (We can reserve the declining salary idea I had for the General Assembly for a second term, since I think $40,000 a year may attract a better field of local candidates to County Council.)

Having said that, though, I think that if there’s a chance that spending $25,000 gives us a chance of being off the hook for $1 billion or so – depending on whose estimate you believe – in the long run, we should take it. Otherwise, we’re being asked to annually spend an amount of money (page 27 here) which is not that far away from the county’s total budget of around $120 million. Instead, the CCC has a rational plan to deal with the problem at its source first and see how much progress is made by that step. Granted, I would like to know that cost estimate but it’s likely to be far less than the state’s proposals.

Moreover, I think this environmental sword of Damocles hangs over our local business community and contributes to the employment shortfall which has led to the loss of revenue.  Let’s face it: at the present time Wicomico County doesn’t have a lot going for it in terms of a business-friendly tax policy or infrastructure to move goods from point A to point, and B we’re hemorrhaging jobs because of these disadvantages. Obviously a great deal can be done with a change in state leadership, but local officials need to do their part as well and supporting the work of the CCC seems to be an effective step in the right direction.

So, since I cannot make it Tuesday night due to a previous commitment, consider this my open letter to County Council supporting the Clean Chesapeake Coalition and its efforts.

Opposing a good idea

This came to me from the Wicomico Society of Patriots:

Citizens of Wicomico:

There is a county council meeting this Tuesday, January 21, at 10 a.m. that should not be missed by anyone concerned about their property rights, property values, and drastically increasing levels of taxation.

Your input is essential to let the counsel know how you feel about this county fighting back against legislation and regulation that will significantly effect our way of life here on the shore. The Septic Bill (SB236), the Phosphorus regulations, the Accounting For Growth land use regulations, and the 1.2 billion dollar estimated cost for imposing the Phase II Watershed Implementation Plan (on Wicomico County alone) are in play this Tuesday.

Several weeks ago in conjunction with a County Council meeting our County Executive, Rick Pollitt, pledged his support and that of the county in backing the work of the Clean Chesapeake Coalition. He also pledged $25,000 to help with the work of the Coalition. The Clean Chesapeake Coalition is the working group for those counties and other organizations and individuals who believe strongly that the state’s efforts at Bay cleanup, including those listed in the paragraph above, are not supported by sound science and will impose huge costs on individuals and businesses with very little if any measurable gain in the stated goal of Bay water quality improvement. The work of the Coalition is an outgrowth of the activism on the part of those Maryland rural counties who began to organize over two years ago in response to these onerous, questionable, and prohibitively expensive state mandates.

Partly in response to pressure from environmental groups, the Wicomico County Council voted to allow testimony and public comments in a future council work session prior to the council voting whether to go forward with county support for the Clean Chesapeake Coalition, or not. That work session is this Tuesday and should start around 12:30. I hope I can count on you to be there; and please pass the word.

So here’s the scoop: bowing to the same environmentalists who take the ideas “not supported by sound science” as gospel, the County Council is going to allow them to speak and try to back the county away from the $25,000 investment in the Clean Chesapeake Coalition. I’m not thrilled about dropping $25,000 on the effort, but if it saves us the $1.2 billion tab the county is supposedly on the hook for it would be money well-spent.

Obviously the same old environmentalist wackos will be there to spout their tired line that we need to pay more to make sure the Bay is pristine. They probably were tipped off to the hearing before anyone else.

I also realize that many of us work for a living; in addition, the weatherman is predicting about 4 to 8 inches of global warming, er, snow for tomorrow. For some, no big deal, but on Delmarva many freak out at the sight of a flake so proceedings may be delayed. It’s also worth pointing out that a future vote is in the offing for this so you can make your feelings known after the hearing (if it occurs) as well.

We all want the Chesapeake Bay to be a usable body of water for all those who depend on it. But the question is truly whether the additional taxes and restrictions on our freedom to develop our property as we see fit are worth a marginal improvement in water quality which could be wiped out by inaction by another state. In my opinion, the answer is no.

Update: the work session scheduled for this afternoon has been cancelled. Those environmentalists who worship Gaia may be cursing her for bringing the half-foot of snow and giving the side of common sense more of a heads-up to prepare.

PlanMaryland repeal redux will get a hearing

I’m glad conservatives are playing the game liberals in the Maryland General Assembly play – if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Many of the restrictions and regulations we’re currently saddled with came on the second, third, or later try in the General Assembly.

So it’s nice to see that a PlanMaryland repeal bill is being introduced again, by Delegate Michael Smigiel. It was pre-filed this session as HB74.

Understandably, the Maryland Liberty PAC was pleased to see this:

Plan Maryland is a statewide development plan designed to consolidate everyone’s property rights into one simple document.

Centralized government planning has never and will never work, but that won’t phase (sic) Martin O’Malley.

The agenda behind Plan Maryland is not to improve our state, it’s to kill all new development that doesn’t match the left’s green agenda.

Many of you, especially those who are property owners or business owners in the development industry know all too well the headaches caused by Maryland’s radical land use policies.

Well now, Plan Maryland is just another headache that we have to deal with statewide.

I used to talk about things which were in the category of “duh” and the last three sentences of this portion of their notice fit the bill. But this bill will get a hearing in the Environmental Matters Committee on Thursday, January 30 at 1 p.m. Delegate Maggie McIntosh is the chair of that committee, and she is definitely the keeper of all things Radical Green in this state.

The MLPAC notice goes on to note the bill introduced last year, but in reality this is the third straight year a similar bill was introduced. However, the 2012 version had many more co-sponsors.

In both cases, though, the votes were there to kill the bills in committee. And even though they were both 17-6 against the side of good, it’s worthy to note that Delegate Herb McMillan switched sides between 2012 and 2013, voting to kill the bill in the latter case. Delegate Patrick Hogan, who was excused from the 2012 vote, voted the correct way in 2013.

Bear in mind this is not the same bill as the one which attempted to rescind the 2012 Septic Bill, a proposal which was introduced by Delegate Mike McDermott last year but failed. The Smigiel bill simply tries to eliminate the aspect of a statewide plan in favor of leaving things to the local jurisdictions which best know their own situation.

There are a lot of bad ideas which eminated from the General Assembly over the last several years, so many more repeal bills need to be introduced. This is one which has merit – if a county wishes to be less than developer-friendly it’s their right. But don’t impose those restrictions on places which may seek to utilize their resources in the highest and best manner.

Freezing as its own reward

A number of Delmarva Power customers who enrolled in the Energy Wise Rewards program were rewarded yesterday morning, on the coldest day thus far this winter with wind chill values well below zero, with no heat. That’s because their thermostats were remotely told to ignore the cold temperatures inside the home to save electricity.

For their part, Delmarva Power threw electric grid operator PJM Interconnection under the bus, saying PJM originally asked Delmarva Power to comply. However, a couple hours later Delmarva restored the thermostat control, probably after complaints poured in. And while they had been repeatedly warning customers about the need to conserve electricity due to record winter demand, people were caught unaware that something they could live with during the summer could also be used in the winter.

I’ve written before about this Energy Wise Rewards program, which gives customers a proverbial thirty pieces of silver in return for the installation of these remotely programmable thermostats. Lo and behold, I even asked if this would someday extend to heating and here’s my answer.

Given the reaction and the fact this move made the evening news, I suspect this chilly morning was more routine for most. Obviously, though, there’s a big difference between having a home which is sweltering a little more than normal in the summer and having the risk of freezing pipes and perhaps fires from alternate heat sources being used in the winter. In the television segment, one of those affected put her roast in the oven to add a little heat to the house – seemingly defeating the purpose of having the thermostat turned down (unless it’s a gas oven, of course.)

So when the swallows return to Capistrano and your mailbox receives yet another solicitation for Energy Wise Rewards, do what I do – laugh and toss it in the trash (well, perhaps after I blog about their latest pathetic attempt at control.) I’m not saying conserving energy is a bad thing, but this is the state which mandates we save energy while refusing to exploit a reliable source of electricity for these same utilities because of essentially unfounded environmental concerns. We can frack our way out of this problem.

That’s a cold dose of reality right there.

The gradual takeover

It’s been awhile since I talked about the concept of Smart Growth, but some relatively recent developments caught my eye and I figured it was time to talk about them. One of these items has been sitting on my top bookmarks for a few weeks now.

Last spring, against my advice, the voters of Salisbury elected Jake Day to their City Council. Since that time, Day has joined with nine other local elected officials around the state as part of an advisory board for Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council. This is a collaboration between the rabidly anti-growth 1,000 Friends of Maryland and Smart Growth America.

Now allow me to say that downtown development is just fine with me. My problem with so-called Smart Growth legislation – such as the Septic Bill which mandated counties provide tier maps for approval by the state, usurping local control – is that it eliminates options local landowners may choose to use. If there is a market for people who wish to live in a rural area, it should be served; moreover, many parts of the region are already off-limits to development because the land doesn’t drain properly. At least that restriction makes sense.

Developing Salisbury’s downtown is important for the city, but not squeezing rural development is important for Wicomico County.

Another recent development in the city is the adoption of designated bicycle pathways, which in Salisbury are marked by “sharrows.” Since I frequently drive in Delaware, I’m familiar with their custom of designating bicycle lanes on the shoulder of the highway, as that state seems to take the concept farther than their Maryland neighbors. But sharrows have a different purpose, simply denoting the best place to ride in a shared lane. In theory, however, a group of bikes moving along the shared lane could slow traffic down to their speed. It may seem extreme, but this has happened in larger cities.

Granted, the designated bicycle ways in Salisbury are somewhat off the beaten path of Salisbury Boulevard, which also serves as Business Route 13 in Salisbury. But the anti-parking idea expressed in the American Spectator article is a dream of Salisbury bicyclists, who want to eliminate one lane of on-street parking when downtown is revitalized. With the lower speed limits common along downtown streets, the bigger danger for bicyclists comes from a driver of a parked car unwittingly opening a car door in the path of a bicyclist rather than the large speed difference common on a highway with a bike lane.

This also works with an anti-car movement called the Complete Streets Coalition, which believes that “incomplete streets (are) designed with only cars in mind.” Instead, they fret that:

(Incomplete streets) limit transportation choices by making walking, bicycling, and taking public transportation inconvenient, unattractive, and, too often, dangerous.

Changing policy to routinely include the needs of people on foot, public transportation, and bicycles would make walking, riding bikes, riding buses and trains safer and easier. People of all ages and abilities would have more options when traveling to work, to school, to the grocery store, and to visit family.

Making these travel choices more convenient, attractive, and safe means people do not need to rely solely on automobiles. They can replace congestion-clogged trips in their cars with swift bus rides or heart-healthy bicycle trips. Complete Streets improves the efficiency and capacity of existing roads too, by moving people in the same amount of space – just think of all the people who can fit on a bus or streetcar versus the same amount of people each driving their own car. Getting more productivity out of the existing road and public transportation systems is vital to reducing congestion.

Just think of how much control we can have over people’s movement if we could only get them out of their cars. Oh, sorry, was I reading between the lines?

Many of these concepts were outlined in Day’s plan for Salisbury. It’s not that the city doesn’t need changes, but it’s my belief that giving too much weight to less efficient modes of transportation or those who create the need for dependency on the schedule of public transportation is counter-productive to good development. Retail, for example, depends on the ability of customers to have close, convenient parking.

But more important to me is liberty – the freedom to do what you wish with your property or to move about as you desire. Regulations from our overlords in Annapolis enacted over the objections of local government usurp the principle that the best government is the one closest to the people. The push toward mass transit at the expense of the automobile removes a vital travel option from the traveling public – Maryland already spends a disproportionate share of gasoline tax dollars on mass transit as opposed to maintenance and improvement to the highway system, and that inequity threatens to become more pronounced with the Red Line and Purple Line in Maryland’s urban core.

Above all, these should be local decisions. The problem with Smart Growth and its tentacles creeping into government at higher levels is its reliance on central planning. Maybe we’d trust Annapolis more if we thought they had our best interests at heart, but past performance doesn’t bode well for future results.

Update: I was researching a more recent post and came across this nugget from Montgomery County, which wants to usurp a car travel lane for buses on certain routes.

Another study showing energy job creation

My friends at API alerted me to yet another study touting the benefits of offshore drilling, but this one was more localized because they discuss energy exploration in the heretofore moribund Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). This rather lengthy research, sponsored by API and the National Ocean Industries Association, showed that Maryland and Delaware could expect an economic bump of over 12,000 jobs and nearly $1 billion over the cumulative 18-year period (2017-2035) covered in the report. It obviously assumes the case that exploration is opened up at the first opportunity, which will arrive in 2017.

Considering state employment in Maryland alone is about 3 million, with over 212,000 unemployed, these numbers may seem like a drop in the bucket. (Delaware adds about 430,000 and 30,000 to the respective totals.) But it’s worth mentioning that these jobs would be created by private investment, so they’re a net gain to the economy as opposed to simple redistribution of confiscated wealth which typifies government jobs, even those in infrastructure like roads and bridges.

And if there’s one thing I have noticed in the past few years about projections for the amount of oil to be found in a particular place, it’s that the initial estimates are far too low. This is more likely in the Atlantic region, which hasn’t been properly explored with the newest technology yet because there was no prospect for securing leases.

While there was a period where Atlantic leases were granted, no area has been leased out in the last thirty years. Furthermore, the seismic information is also three decades old, which is an eternity in this day and age of computer mapping – that was an era where the conventional wisdom was that many portions of America were played out insofar as oil was concerned. But recent technological advances and methods of exploration have determined there’s still a lot of life in these fields. The same may well be true for the Atlantic OCS, which could have double or triple the expected capacity. (The model used in the study essentially doubles the government’s most recent estimate, but that calculation is based on fields in areas where modeling was more constant than it was in the Atlantic OCS. So it wouldn’t be out of the question to see yet another doubling.)

Regardless, it’s more ammunition for the argument that allowing more energy exploration would be a job creator, with the added benefit of energy self-sufficiency. Drill, baby, drill!

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