The Chesapeake Bay is a national treasure. Trying to debate that point would be a fool’s errand. Unfortunately, that’s usually where the non-partisan agreement ends. Since the late 1980’s, various efforts to clean up the Bay on several fronts – industrial discharges, management of farmlands, and stormwater runoff from urban development – have enjoyed different levels of success across the portions of six states and DC which drain into the Bay.
The EPA has decided it’s time to change course.
They have created a computer model which estimates the amount of pollution which the Bay can withstand and still flourish (referred to as “TMDL” for Total Maximum Daily Load). Even though there are admitted fallacies in the computer model, the EPA is ready to implement a “pollution diet” for the Bay, and each state in the watershed will be obligated to reduce pollutants to meet their apportionment of the new regulations. This will mean reforesting buffers along waterfronts, protecting undeveloped land, and constructing management facilities to trap pollutants before they enter the Bay. Officials in Virginia have estimated the cost of compliance will approach $8 billion just in the Commonwealth.
In February, during federal budget deliberations, Virginia Representative Bob Goodlatte introduced an amendment which would derail funding of any EPA efforts to implement or further pursue the TMDL regulations. The amendment passed in February, and Goodlatte is expected to propose a similar measure if the Congress ever actually considers a budget again. It’s not hard to imagine that he has been blasted by Bay advocates as if he were proposing to dump barrels of motor oil and other raw sewage in the Bay. Nobody seems to be willing to have an honest debate about what regulations could truly balance the best measures for Bay cleanup while respecting business interests and other rights of property owners. It’s just too darn easy to scream hyperbole and demagogue those who disagree with you.
Bay cleanup efforts in the last 20-plus years have made significant strides for the health of the Bay, but there’s more to be done. I actually don’t think that Bob Goodlatte would disagree. But pursuing a new cleanup effort, based on a scientific model, with capricious prorated allocations to each sub-area in the watershed, can legitimately be criticized as unwise.
You can support Bay cleanup efforts and still favor property rights. You can disagree with the TMDL methodology and it doesn’t mean you’re an unrepentant villain. You can build on your property, right up to the bulkhead, and still capture stormwater and achieve a net benefit for the Bay.
We should talk about these things. But the TMDL doesn’t really allow that.
Under the existing federal budget strategy of baseline budgeting, the national budget will automatically increase in the next 10 years by about $9 trillion. The Congress is talking about deficit reductions between $1 billion and $2 billion over the same schedule. How did this theater of the absurd get to the point where Congressmen are able to ignore reality and nobody cries foul?
Members of Congress bemoan forsaking the “contract” America “signed” with its seniors in terms of Medicare and Social Security and they act like even speaking of reforming these entitlements would be breaking that solemn promise. But anybody with any sense knows that significant reforms in these two massive programs must be at least a component of true spending talks.
Republicans ardently attest that tax increases are “off the table”; simple acknowledgement that there are in fact some subsidies and deductions which have served a purpose and could be targets for reform earns a Scarlet Letter from the conservatives and the Tea Party. It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure out that true tax reform – be it a total transformation to a flat tax or a consumption tax, or simply a re-write of the antiquated and overly-burdensome tax code – would revolutionize income and collections in America for the better.
President Obama invoked the revered conservative icon Ronald Reagan in his prime-time address to the country last week, informing us that Reagan raised the debt ceiling 18 times during his tenure, and implying that what he’s asking for now is no different. (Forget the fact that Obama railed against the debt ceiling increase in 2006 as “a sign of leadership failure”.) Not so fast, sir. The debt ceiling stands at $14.3 trillion now, and you’re asking for an increase of $2.4 trillion. You can’t rationalize that obscene amount when the net debt ceiling increase – from $1 trillion to $3 trillion during Reagan’s 8 years in office – doesn’t equal your single request, despite the fact that Mr. Reagan did it in 18 small steps averaging about $110 billion per step.
Is there nobody who understands simple math writing for the newspapers these days? Is there nobody who recognizes these conversations must begin in the halls of Congress immediately? Are all our elected representatives in Congress so selfish and self-interested that they’re willing to simply clock their time, cast their party votes, complain that they can’t touch “the third rail” of politics, lament that “this is the best we could do”, and retire to a lucrative lobbying career?
Is there anybody who can attack these problems head-on and withstand the retaliation that will surely come not only from their political opponents, but also from the voters and their own party faithful?
I hope so.