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May 18, 2016 by Evan Isaacson

Renewed Public Investment in Water Infrastructure Promotes Equality

Clean water: We can't take it for granted, as the people of Flint, Michigan, can attest. And they're not alone. In too many communities across the nation, drinking water fails to meet minimum safety standards, forcing consumers to buy bottled water and avoid the stuff coming out of their taps.

We cannot say that we didn't see this coming. Part of the problem is that, as a society, we have always undervalued clean water. Municipal water rates only pass along a fraction of the total cost – the true cost – of the enormously complex endeavor of inserting ourselves into the natural hydrologic cycle. Nature does not recognize the distinction between "drinking water" and "wastewater." Expecting safe and clean drinking water when you put your glass under a tap requires the expensive task of managing water from source to tap to toilet and back.

For much of modern American history, obtaining clean water in sufficient quantities was the principal mission of an army of local, state, and federal officials (literally an Army, in the case of the Corps of Engineers), in part because it allowed for growth. So, we subsidized water rates, invested in water infrastructure, and – eventually – recognized that rapid …

May 10, 2016 by Evan Isaacson
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In the world of watershed restoration, there are multiple tools and tactics that government agencies, private landowners, and industry can use to reduce pollution and clean up our waterways. In Maryland, two of those approaches seem destined to collide.

On the first track is nutrient trading, a least-cost pollution control concept predicated on the idea that if some distant entity can reduce the same amount of pollution at a lower cost than a facility with a water pollution control permit, then the permit holder should pay the other entity to do so. On the second track is green infrastructure investment, a labor-intensive, capital-intensive direct investment in local urban pollution controls. Neither concept has yet gained widespread adoption, despite pilot programs and local initiatives in a few dozen places around the United States, but what happens when both concepts emerge at the same time and the same place …

April 19, 2016 by Evan Isaacson
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Yesterday, the Chesapeake Bay Program released its latest estimate of nutrient and sediment pollution in the Bay watershed. The annual model run of the program's Watershed Model shows that the estimated nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment loads decreased by three percent, three percent, and four percent, respectively, compared to 2014 levels. These are important improvements, but much work lies ahead to improve water quality in the Bay and boost the fisheries, wildlife, and recreational activities it supports.

The estimated decrease in nitrogen loads of nearly 7 million pounds brings the Chesapeake Bay a bit closer to the 2017 interim target under the restoration plan known as the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (Bay TMDL). However, the watershed as a whole – including the six Bay states of Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia, plus the District of Columbia – remains significantly off track.

The latest annual …

March 18, 2016 by Evan Isaacson
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Recently, I have been noticing a number of connections between the environmental policies or issues that I’ve been studying and modern economic doctrine. I’m not sure if the number or strength of these connections are enough to claim that we’re seeing a rise in “laissez faire environmentalism” in the Chesapeake Bay region, but the implications are interesting to consider nevertheless.

Nutrient trading is the best example. There is little question that the notion of pollution trading stems directly from economic principles, ultimately leading to a sulfur dioxide trading program to control acid rain during the George H.W. Bush years. I don’t have to work very hard to draw those parallels. And while pollution trading in the context of water is less pervasive or understood than it is in the context of air, more than a few papers have catalogued the dozens of …

March 17, 2016 by Evan Isaacson
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Maryland’s high court ruled last week in favor of the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) in a challenge by several advocacy groups against five municipal stormwater (“MS4”) permits issued by MDE. While reading the lengthy opinion on my computer, I felt at times like a raving sports fan yelling at the TV in frustration. My frustration was borne not of the court’s specific arguments, or even of concerns over any far-reaching legal implications of the decision. Rather, to understand why this decision has generated such frustration, it is important to understand the timing and context of this decision.

Generally speaking, court decisions merely upholding existing programs and the status quo, such as in the present case, rarely generate outrage. Moreover, I acknowledge that reasonable minds certainly can differ in interpreting complicated legal matters, as each of the seven reasonable minds on Maryland’s Court …

March 2, 2016 by Evan Isaacson
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The mysterious deaths of 13 bald eagles on Maryland's Eastern Shore last month captured headlines around the country. While a tragic story, it was also a reminder of just how far bald eagle populations and those of other birds of prey have recovered over the last several decades. From a population of fewer than 1,000 in 1963, almost as many bald eagles now soar in the skies over Maryland alone. The iconic bird's recovery is a case study in the value of regulating toxics in our environment.

The story of the bald eagle's decline and subsequent recovery highlights both our previous failure to understand the acute toxicity in the air and water of industrialized nations and the subsequent success of environmental regulation. In fact, the use of the pesticide DDT and its impact on one of our most cherished national symbols almost singled-handedly galvanized the environmental …

Feb. 23, 2016 by Evan Isaacson
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Legislative committees in both the Maryland House and Senate are holding hearings this week on the Poultry Litter Management Act, a bill that has been attracting a lot of attention in Maryland and beyond. I have been asked to testify as part of a panel featuring representatives of the United States Geological Survey and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. The focus of my testimony will be the problems posed by farm animal manure – in this case, poultry litter on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. 

You can read the full testimony here, but the crux of it is that the creation of an effective and comprehensive manure management policy is one of the biggest missing pieces in the puzzle that is the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (Bay TMDL). Simply put, addressing the massive nutrient imbalance in areas like Maryland’s Eastern Shore and the greater Delmarva Peninsula caused …

Feb. 18, 2016 by Evan Isaacson
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On May 12, 2009, the federal government finally got serious about protecting the Chesapeake Bay. That’s when President Obama signed Executive Order 13508 on Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration, which declared that the federal government would put its shoulder into the multi-state effort to restore the Bay. Taking turns at a podium perched on a bluff overlooking the Potomac River, the Governors of Maryland and Virginia and the Mayor of Washington D.C. praised the President that day for ordering the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other federal agencies to take on this new leadership role that would culminate in the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (Bay TMDL) the following year.

When it was EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s turn at the microphone, she pledged that EPA would take a tough stance when necessary to compel states to finally follow through with their …

Jan. 13, 2016 by Evan Isaacson
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The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, is a tragic reminder of the hidden costs of our nation’s failing infrastructure.  Whether through benign neglect or deliberate “starve the beast” cost-cutting measures, we are continually seeing the costly and sometimes terrible consequences of failing to meet our infrastructure financing needs.  The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the state of U.S. infrastructure a D+ grade in its most recent 2013 Report Card, which included a D for both drinking water and wastewater infrastructure.  According to the organization, fixing the nation’s infrastructure will require $3.6 trillion through 2020.

This past week, EPA added its voice to this discussion over infrastructure finance with the release of its quadrennial Clean Watershed Needs Survey.  Every four years EPA submits this report to Congress, as required by the Clean Water Act, detailing the total capital wastewater and stormwater treatment and …

Oct. 19, 2015 by Evan Isaacson
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It’s a staple of the right-wing assault on government that “bloated” government programs, like those intended to protect the environment, are a burden to taxpayers. In my home state of Maryland, the numbers demonstrate otherwise. The percentage of taxpayer dollars spent by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) is tiny and getting tinier.  In 2014, less than one-quarter of 1 percent of the state’s general funds were expended by MDE, a 40-percent reduction in this share since 2004.  In fact, MDE’s general fund budget actually shrank between 2004 and 2014 – not just in inflation-adjusted terms, but in absolute terms – even as the state budget increased by more than 60 percent.  

That’s not to suggest that the state abandoned environmental programs. Over this same period, Maryland created several major new revenue streams, including a Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund, the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal …

CPR HOMEPAGE
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A Missed Opportunity for the Bay TMDL: Maryland’s 2020 General Permit for Livestock Farms

June 18, 2020

The Climate Crisis and Heat Stress: Maryland Farms Must Adapt to Rising Temperatures