Voting against their own interests

The law of unintended consequences strikes again.

It took over a month for this to come to my attention, since the original Bay Journal article by Tom Horton came out on March 6 and movement may have occurred since. Be that as it may, the article seems to want to heap blame on the county as much as the state – problem is the county is now following rules dictated by Annapolis, in essence losing its identity.

Here are the issues, as laid out by Horton:

(Farm owner Ted Wycall’s) plan was to increase sales and production to boost his income – “about what a (Wicomico) county teacher makes,” enough to live on, but not to retire, or pay the latest $8,000 tractor repair. He would have moved his 54-foot-square market onto 60 acres that link his farm to a busy road, where more customers would stop.

But highway officials said he’d have to spend $50,000 for a “deceleration lane” for his roadside market, never mind that nearby crossroads don’t have any.

He could avoid that by running an access drive off a side road; but the impervious surface of that driveway, plus that of his market building, would entail stormwater pollution expenditures of more than $20,000, plus weekly paperwork he has no time for.

He’d actually be removing more impervious surface (old farm buildings) than he’d create; but because those buildings predate stormwater regulations, he’d get no credit for that, the Maryland Department of the Environment confirmed.

A state-of-the-art septic tank to handle wastes would be $15,000 or more. They can be built for much less, but regulations require such systems be certified. This has winnowed the field to a few outfits that provide only top-of-the-line units.

Ted’s requests to substitute a waterless, composting toilet, used extensively by groups like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and National Park Service, were rejected by the county.

So was his argument that new greenhouses he needs to expand on his current farm be exempted from stormwater rules: “You are a developer,” said a dismissive e-mail from a county official.

By my count that is two state agencies and probably two different areas of county government involved.

While I’ve never patronized Wycall’s roadside stand, I have often wondered how it stays in business because I notice when I drive by it there aren’t many customers. (Coming from the south I often cut through “the forest” from Pocomoke, so I eventually drive by the farm’s Nutters Cross Road location. Problem is not many others drive there, aside from local traffic.) I gather his idea was to build a new facility to front on Snow Hill Road, which is Maryland Route 12. Because it would be new, it is supposed to comply with all these rules surely Wycall supported upon enactment. This educated guess comes from knowing the nature of his business and taking the liberty of looking up his voter registration – let’s just say I wasn’t surprised about the party affiliation. Bear in mind as well that Wicomico doesn’t yet have the “rain tax” which would likely hit Wycall hard just as he completed his upgrades because we’re probably at the front of the line for its expansion.

Yet the Greenbranch Organic Farm situation is not drastically different than that of any other business owner who wants to expand – it only attracted Horton’s attention because this was a more “noble” calling than that of the average poultry producer a mile or two away. (In fact, it was groups with that same mindset who tried to bankrupt a local poultry farmer just a few miles from Wycall for making a simple error in sludge storage where the state fined him a modest amount.) If that other farmer wanted to expand his chicken operation, the same regulations would apply but Horton might not mind so much then.

In an era of 20 to 30 years ago, the county would have made Wycall’s life easier. The light traffic count of his expanded operation would be handled by attentive driving and perhaps a slightly wider shoulder on the highway, a run-of-the-mill septic tank would have been just fine, and no worries about impervious surface because chances are a gravel parking lot would have been perfectly acceptable. (It probably still would be except for the handicapped spaces federal law now dictates.) Since then, in its effort at assuming complete control over our lives justified as one of “saving the Bay,” businesses now have to pony up the extra cash and effort to do all which was asked of Wycall and much more. It’s intriguing that the Wycalls are considering packing up and moving to Montana, where “there are almost no rules.” In terms of being friendly to business, it can’t be much more clear than that.

Yet the denizens of Radical Green who read this will only shrug their shoulders and blame the county for being a bunch of redneck hicks who bend over backwards for Big Poultry but won’t give this heroic little guy and his acorn-rooting pigs a break, this before advocating to expand some of these regulations to other waterways like Lake Erie.

I’m sorry that the Wycalls are facing such difficulty with their situation – if they want to run an organic farm and charge people premium prices for the privilege, well, there’s one born every minute. But sometimes it really is true that you reap what you sow.

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.

A look ahead: 2014 in Maryland

Yesterday I looked at how 2014 looks in Wicomico County, but much – too much, as I see it – of their decision-making is truly made in Annapolis. And with current governor Martin O’Malley attempting to burnish his credentials for a position inside Hillary Clinton’s administration – oh wait, he’s supposedly running himself, isn’t he? – it’s important to him that he establish himself with the progressive crowd.

What this means for us is that no tax increase is off the table, but it’s more likely we will see renewed efforts at green energy, gun control, and salvaging the failed Obamacare rollout in Maryland – but if worse comes to worse, it’s Anthony Brown who will be thrown under the bus. In the decision between a Maryland legacy and a White House bid, well, no lieutenant governor has succeeded his boss anyway.

Brown is probably the conventional wisdom favorite to succeed O’Malley and become Maryland’s first black governor; of course there are other main contenders on both sides. Attorney General Doug Gansler seems to be the Democrats’ backup plan but has endured a rocky start to his campaign; meanwhile Delegate Heather Mizeur seems to be the one establishing a number of truly far-left issues in the campaign – witness her idea for marijuana legalization.

On the Republican side, three top contenders seem to be out to appeal most to the conservative crowd, with a fourth joining the field in January. Harford County Executive David Craig obviously has the most well-rounded political resume, but Delegate Ron George represents a more populous area around Annapolis. Charles Lollar is running the most populist campaign, but he may receive a run for his money once the social media-savvy Larry Hogan formally enters the race next month. His Change Maryland Facebook page claims over 70,000 supporters of all political stripes – in a four-way Republican race, 70,000 votes might be enough.

There are only two other statewide races this year, since there’s no Senate race this cycle. With Attorney General Gansler abandoning his post to try for governor, there are four Democratic members of the General Assembly out to succeed him – Aisha Braveboy, Jon Cardin, Bill Frick, and Brian Frosh all seek the seat, and all but Cardin have officially filed. No one has yet filed on the GOP side, but 2012 U.S. Senate candidate Richard Douglas seems to be leaning toward a run, allowing the Republicans to avoid the ignominy of whiffing on a statewide race for the second cycle in a row.

Things are shaping up as a rematch of 2010 in the Comptroller’s race, as Republican William Campbell is again challenging incumbent Peter Franchot.

With so many members of the General Assembly attempting to move up to higher offices, it creates a cascading effect in the various General Assembly races. While the GOP is probably not going to see a General Assembly majority in the 2015-18 cycle – and has the headwind of being redistricted in such a manner to try and cut their minority – being on the wrong side of a lot of issues may make it tricky for Democrats to not lose seats. Republicans have a goal of picking up seven Senate seats, giving them 19 and allowing them to filibuster, and wouldn’t be unhappy with picking up the four House seats required to possibly bypass committee votes on key issues.

As I noted above, though, the key issues will be revealed once O’Malley introduces his legislative package to the General Assembly in mid-January, shortly before his annual State of the State address. Last year he got his gas tax increase to build the Red Line and Purple Line, authorization for offshore wind, and his onerous gun restrictions in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, so this year’s agenda will probably pivot back to measures he believes will help the state’s economy but in reality will probably redistribute even more wealth from the productive to the slothful, growing government at an even faster pace. Many of those dollars will address perceived shortcomings in education and health care.

That seems to be how O’Malley’s last package of revenue enhancements has worked, because the state once again is facing a structural deficit despite rosy predictions to the contrary. Old chestnuts like increasing the cigarette tax or combined reporting of business income will probably jostle for primary position with new initiatives like a mileage tax, additional penalties for cell phone usage, or a higher toll for being caught by speed cameras.

It’s somewhat difficult to predict the direction of the General Assembly before it begins, as items not on the radar in early January become bills introduced late in the session, some of which pass muster. The gasoline tax in its adopted form was one of those last year, since conventional wisdom predicted a straight per-gallon increase rather than the adoption of a partial sales tax which will increase regularly. Another dynamic which will affect timing is having the filing deadline for the 2014 ballot come during session – surely some will wait and see what their path to re-election looks like before introducing certain controversial bills. In previous elections the filing deadline occurred well after the session was over.

Once we get beyond the session in April, the primary campaign will ramp up immediately because of the new experience of a June primary. The Democrats tried to change this eight years ago, fearing a bruising primary fight between Doug Duncan and Martin O’Malley, but succeeded this time because of changes in federal law requiring longer lead times for overseas military voters. Instead of pushing the primary back a couple weeks to comply, though, they decided on a full 2 1/2 months.

At this point there are three main contenders on the Democratic side, and I think that number will stay the same – my thought is either Dutch Ruppersberger will pass up the race (more likely) or, if Dutch gets in, the damaged goods of Doug Gansler will drop out. Obviously there will be more than three on the ballot but some fall under the auspices of perennial candidates who I think are just working on that line in their obituary where it says so-and-so ran for governor five times.

For the GOP, the same is true. In their case, I don’t think there’s enough money out there for four main contenders and whoever raised the least in 2013 is probably the one who exits the race after Larry Hogan makes it formal. In Hogan’s 2010 gubernatorial bid he lent his campaign $325,000 so presumably Hogan has the personal wherewithal to use as seed money; perhaps the dropout will agree to be the running mate of another contender.

It’s interesting, though, that the problems Maryland faces – at least the ones not of their own making, a category in which I’d include the overregulation of local county and municipal governments – are very similar to those faced right here in Wicomico County. Maryland has the “benefit” of being the host state for thousands of federal government worker bees, but little industry to speak of. It’s notable the campaigns are now paying lip service to the concept of re-establishing a manufacturing base, but the process will take at least a couple terms of office and will certainly be at odds with the stated goals of some among the Radical Green who desire a pristine Chesapeake Bay. Development and a reasonably clean Bay can co-exist, but if you want circa-1600 conditions that won’t happen.

And because there are so many who depend on government for their livelihood as workers – or survival as dependents – the concept of “One Maryland” is laughable on its face. The needs of Baltimore City or Somerset County residents don’t often coincide with the desires of your average denizen of Takoma Park or Chevy Chase, but supposedly they are all “One Maryland.” I think there are at least four Marylands – the energy-rich areas of the state’s panhandle, the I-95/I-270 corridors stretching from Harford County on the north to the Beltway suburbs hard by the District of Columbia and back towards Frederick, the bedroom suburbs of southern Maryland which are rapidly changing in political posture, and the Eastern Shore, where agriculture and tourism coexist, but in an occasional state of hostility. One can’t even say that their needs are similar because jobs are plentiful around D.C. but tougher to come by on the Eastern Shore and in Baltimore proper.

It’s not likely one man (or woman) can unite these areas, but the question is which coalitions will hold sway. Finding the right combination will be the key to success for the state in 2014.

Move on to a new energy supplier

December 18, 2013 · Posted in Watchdog Wire · Comments Off 

Under a slightly different title (the above was my original submission), this is my latest for Watchdog Wire.

Electrical customers throughout Maryland may be receiving – or perhaps have already seen – a solicitation for switching their electrical service from their current utility to a relatively new player in the industry called Ethical Electric. I received a solicitation last week, with the message:

As a Delmarva Power customer, you now have the option to ensure that every kilowatt of electricity used in the Swartz home comes from clean, renewable sources.

As I read on, I learned that a large portion of my electricity comes from dirty, supposedly finite sources.

(continued at Watchdog Wire…)

Staving off defeat

It was a Friday afternoon document dump on the state level, but today the Maryland Department of Agriculture dropped its phosphorus management tool regulations. A piece in the Daily Times by Jennifer Shutt reminded readers that area farmers had objected to these changes since the discussion began in 2012.

But before doing a victory lap, it should be noted the regulations aren’t going away:

As a result of concerns identified in the public meetings and public comment process, MDA is withdrawing the regulations. The department will consider all comments and critical issues raised by stakeholders, develop an approach that addresses concerns raised to date, and resubmit a new proposal to AELR in 2014 that includes a phased implementation schedule for the new tool.

Local reaction was pleased, but cautious. Delegate Mike McDermott, whose district covers much of the lower Shore, noted:

While this is great news for Marylanders and the lower shore specifically, we must remain vigilant in the coming year…they will not stop. Today, I pre-filed a bill that would require a thorough fiscal review and economic impact study on regulations brought before the AELR Committee by state departments. I will also be offering a bill that would remove the ability of the Executive Branch to implement a regulation if it is not approved by the AELR Committee. The General Assembly must stand up to the overreach by this or any future governor’s administration whey they attempt to bypass the legislative process. Today is akin to a ballgame being called on account of rain…rest assured, their will be a make up and we all need to be prepared!

Added local candidate Christopher Adams, who is seeking to represent another portion of the Lower Shore in Annapolis:

Governing to the brink of disaster is just bad public policy. While this is good short term news for the agricultural community, it is a shame that a reasoned approach was not contemplated from the beginning.

So what is a reasoned approach? Buddy Hance, the state’s Secretary of Agriculture, defended the idea behind the regulations:

The O’Malley-Brown Administration remains committed to adopting the PMT through rule making and developing an approach that further considers comments raised by policymakers and citizens alike. MDA is confident that the PMT science is sound, based on 20 years of evolving federal and state research to better understand soil phosphorus and managing risk of loss to our rivers and streams.

I guess the state was hoping to get this done before the election season heats up, but we on the Shore raised too much of a stink. (Pun intended.) Certainly the O’Malley minions in Annapolis are making the political calculation that the farmers on the Eastern Shore aren’t going to vote for them anyway, but such a proposal would please those who swoon at the thought of pristine wildlife corridors on the Eastern Shore and figure farmers are the sole source of pollution for the Bay because of that icky chicken manure.

Moreover, something tells me that research “evolved” in the direction of the wishes of those paying for the studies. Since both the federal and state governments are tightly clutched in Democratic hands, and that party is the home of those who tip the balance furthest away from coexistence between poultry production and acceptable water quality – forever chasing a goal of placing the Bay in the pristine condition it was in when just a few thousand native tribesmen lived here as opposed to the millions who now inhabit its watershed – it’s no surprise the research has suggested regulations local agricultural advocates reject.

But it’s like almost any other cherished liberal dream – like water eroding a large rock, cracks develop and eventually the obstacle is surmounted. Many of the initiatives our state is saddled with withered and died multiple times before the General Assembly finally relented. So it will be with this package of regulations: they didn’t get them this time, but in 2014 they’ll hope it flies under the radar with the looming election. If not, it might be an O’Malley parting gift at the dawn of 2015, daring a Republican successor to overturn it.

Or worse, it could be the stepping-off point for another Democratic governor to cite even more favorable and extreme “evolving research” and really clamp down on the Eastern Shore’s agricultural industry.

Poultry producers are getting it on all sides now: their feed costs continue to be well above average thanks to the ethanol mandates and their effect on corn prices, the value of their land is significantly and adversely affected by state-mandated tier maps which hinder opportunities for development on road frontage if desired, and now these new proposed regulations layered on top of hundreds of pages of existing state and federal mandates. Add to that competition from abroad, and one has to ponder how much more the major players will take.

If Perdue ever left our little corner of the world, the cherished Radical Green dream of wildlife corridors may follow. There won’t be a lot of point for many local farmers to stay in business.

Next Page »

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