Builders: Watershed Implementation Plan – the real cost to Marylanders

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By D. Stephen Seawright

The Maryland State Builders Association agrees that we all should be making legitimate efforts to curb pollution and protect our Chesapeake Bay.

However, the economic impact of Maryland’s Watershed Implementation Plan, according to a report released by the Sage Policy Group, would shrink the state’s economy by $10 billion, resulting in the loss of 65,000 jobs and cost the state, taxpayers, and consumers more than $11 billion by 2017. This makes the overall cost to Marylanders $21 billion, or $9,750 per household.

As President of the Maryland State Builders Association, the findings of this report are cause for concern. We believe the focus of Bay cleanup should center on the leading causes of pollution and the most economically beneficial reduction measures that can be put in place now with the limited resources available.

Maryland should reconsider setting an accelerated clean-up goal in order to spread the cost of necessary programs. The three largest categories of clean-up are: Stormwater (35%), Waste Water Treatment Plant upgrades (31%), and airborne pollution (i.e. power plants) (27%).

At a time when our state and nation are struggling to emerge from a significant recession and resulting high unemployment, moving forward with such an expensive plan will be devastating, with $2.8 billion in lost wages and income –- and worse yet, the plan does not focus on the worst polluters.

Above and beyond the efficacy of the current state plan, the new mandates go further than those of neighboring states, thus placing Maryland at a competitive disadvantage as it relates to economic growth, job creation and the overall financial impact on residents.

The Sage study reports that, “Maryland's contributions to Bay restoration should be commensurate with the contributions of other states, thereby allowing Maryland's industries to continue to effectively compete.”

From a practical standpoint, it is unclear how the plan’s $11 billion price tag will be paid for given the current budgetary limitations on the state and localities, which face substantial cuts and growing liabilities this year and forecast over the next two years. While some costs will be passed onto consumers and industries, Maryland and its counties would incur dramatic increased costs for compliance over the plan’s first five years.

The opportunity to discuss financing may exist within the context of an Executive Order issued by the Administration earlier this week. The Order creates a Task Force on Sustainable Growth and Wastewater Disposal to study the use of septic systems.

The Maryland State Builders Association certainly supports efforts to strengthen the health of the Bay, as every Marylander would. We, however, believe that those efforts should be undertaken within the confines of affordability and in way that keeps Maryland competitive economically.

D. Stephen Seawright is President of the Maryland State Builders Association.
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