More swings likely with BAT (Editorial)

(June 13, 2017) In early May, Gov. Larry Hogan signed more than 200 bills that legislators passed over the most recent session.
To delight of many rural county officials and residents, a bill that wasn’t in that stack was the reestablished mandate of septic systems with “best available technology” for nitrogen removal.
Last summer, Hogan first repealed the mandate initially passed under the so-called Smart Growth legislation during the Martin O’Malley administration.
Hogan’s repeal kept a requirement for new septic systems installed in the Critical Areas, 1,000 feet from water’s edge and for newly constructed large septic systems anywhere in the state with a design flow of 5,000 gallons per day or greater.
Hogan’s repeal also gave counties the flexibility to enact local BAT requirements outside of the Critical Area.
“This is a measured step to reduce regulatory burden and build public support for a smarter and more effective septics program across the state,” said Ben Grumbles, Maryland Department of Environment secretary, following the repeal last year. “We are customizing the statewide requirement to meet local watershed needs more effectively while still insisting on excellent environmental results. Innovation and collaboration at the local level, rather than locking into one particular technology, will lead to more success in protecting and sustaining Maryland’s precious environment.
The repeal was hailed as a common-sense move by its supporters as wastewater coming from septics often goes through a battery of natural filtering and may never reach a waterway.
Opponents said it would encourage rampant home building increasing pollution from their septic systems.
Baltimore legislators sponsored bills in this past session to basically repeal the repeal and reinstate the BAT septic requirement across the board.
The measure passed the Senate with amendments but didn’t reach a vote in the House of Delegates.
“It makes no sense to put an enhanced nutrient removal system in the middle of a farmland 25 miles from any critical area in the state and require (homeowners) to pay any more than necessary,” said Sen. Edward Reilly, R-Anne Arundel, on the Senate floor during debate. “This focuses the efforts and the money on the most important parts of the state.”
Septic makes up about 6 percent of nitrogen entering the Chesapeake Bay.
The entire Cheapeake Bay. For just Maryland, it’s 8 percent.
The BAT septic systems can reduce nitrogen by about 60 percent but as the Maryland Association of Counties pointed out in its testimony on the bill, “the nitrogen reduction that will be generated based on the costs required to install (and maintain) BAT systems is neither efficient nor cost-effective.”
“There is no comprehensive scientific study that shows BAT systems will reduce nitrogen in every location in Maryland,” MACO added. “Both the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Geological Survey have questioned the need to require BAT systems everywhere.”
With the bill defeated, soon after the session closed, environmental groups found hope in the announcement of a summer work group with members of the House Environment and Transportation Committee.
“We are eager to develop a plan that will reduce pollution from septic systems including better maintenance of the older systems and protect all waters of Maryland from this contamination,” said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, president of 1000 Friends of Maryland. “Rural development must not be a source of new pollution and everyone must do their fair share to protect Maryland waters.”
Doing their fair and then some are the farmers in rural Maryland employing filter strips, precision agriculture and nutrient management to cut pollution going into tributaries and the Bay.
Requiring an upgraded septic would amount to a “double dip” for farmers. Consider the young farmers that the state and nation yearn for.
Upgrading or building a new house on the farm would tack that much more cost on the debt they take on. Is that a fair share?
When Hogan took office, he pledged an end to the “war on rural Maryland” and has backed that up time and again since his inauguration.
The war may be neutralized, but with the expectation that this issue will come up in the next session, skirmishes are sure to follow.