Sun Editorial on BAT Septic Repeal: What Will Local Governments Whine About Next?

A Baltimore Sun editorial (2016-08-23) criticized Governor Lawrence (Larry) Hogan’s recent decision to propose regulations repealing the mandatory use of best available nitrogen removal technology (BAT) septic systems outside of the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Coastal Bays Critical Areas. The editorial questioned whether the repeal: (1) would damage the environment; and (2) was fair to non-septic system homeowners. The editorial also questioned if the increased septic enforcement efforts and septic to sewer hookups proposed by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) would materialize. From the editorial:

[MDE’s septic enforcement proposal] sounds great, particularly forcing property owners to replace failing septic systems, which is long overdue, but environmentalists harbor doubts. If Mr. Hogan is so quick to capitulate to local concerns over new septic system costs, what confidence can Marylanders have that he will stand firm on enforcement, which is just as likely to prove controversial? And why should MDE expect more septic users to switch to central sewer systems when the state has just reduced the cost of a new septic system by thousands of dollars? …

There’s also a matter of fairness. A home connected to a central sewer line contributes about one-fourth as much pollution into the Chesapeake Bay as one using a traditional septic system. Why shouldn’t all Marylanders be held equally accountable? Just as troubling is the potential impact on local rivers and creeks: In places like the Eastern Shore, septic systems are a major source of water pollution, and the new rules could prove disastrous on the local level.

The editorial conceded that is nitrogen pollution from septic systems represents a small percentage of the overall nitrogen sources that the proposed repeal may not have a serious effect on Bay restoration efforts, but also questioned whether local governments will “whine” about other environmental initiatives:

Admittedly, such changes won’t single-handedly decide the fate of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup, not when septic pollution accounts for perhaps 5 percent of the overall problem. But the danger is that the backsliding will continue. What will local governments whine about next? Sediment controls? The flush tax? Upgrading sewage treatment plants?

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